Tuesday, January 11, 2011


It all started so innocently.

Since last week, were talking about the snow that was expected to arrive in Atlanta Sunday night, but I didn't think about it much. Snow, big deal. Of course people were getting hysterical about it, it's the South, people start denuding the supermarket shelves of milk and toilet paper if it's even slightly below freezing out and some guy with dandruff is standing next to a fan. It did indeed start snowing early in the evening, but even as I went to sleep that night I didn't worry much about it. Those tiny little flakes, this was clearly a lower-case-s snow, not the SNOW SNOW SNOW they were hyperventilating about on the news.

There's a saying, ready-made for needlework samplers (along with some kind of rueful saying about how Mother Knows Best) that it's not what happens to you, it's how you deal with it. Well, when it comes to winter preparedness, it's not how much snow you get, but how your city responds to it. When I woke up Monday morning, there was...maybe four inches of snow? Certainly no more than six. If it snowed that much in New York, it would undoubtedly be inconvenient and slow things down for the morning commute, but by midday, at least in heavily trafficked areas, it would be salted and sanded and shoveled and trampled into a muddy brown slurry that would crust on the sidewalk until it either melted away or got covered up by the next big snowfall.

But in Atlanta, it has been like the apocalypse. SNOWMAGEDDON.

(Photo: David Goldman / AP)

See, it's not that there was that much snow. But none of it was plowed. None of it was salted. Not just the local roads, but the big arteries, the highways, the interstates, all totally snowbound. By Monday the snow turned to sleet and then the sun went down and froze it all again, and by this morning, it was like a Zamboni drove over the entire city. There were two-inch thick sheets of ice covering the entire (and I mean the entire) highway. I drove up the GA-400 at 20 miles per hour the entire way to work, except when I was on local roads, where I was driving 10mph. Even at that speed I could feel my wheels skidding. The highway was strewn with abandoned cars along the side that had careened into the guardrails or skidded into banks of ossified snow, irretrievable, one presumes, until the thaw.

(Photo: Journal & Courier, John Terhune / AP)

I made it into work OK both Monday and Tuesday, but I think that I had one major protective mechanism, which was my relative inexperience as a driver. See, I don't think I'm an awesome driver, and as such, I know that I'm not some kind of badass. And as I tweeted late Monday morning, what I saw a lot on the road (from the few brave/stupid souls that decided to leave their homes) was an overestimation of driving skill and an underestimation of the physical properties of frozen water. I can tell you now: you can try to go 40 miles per hour around a turn on a completely icy road if you have that much faith in your steering and wheels and obscenely gigantic SUV, just don't do it anywhere around me. Slow and steady won the race in my case for getting into work, but I had jackasses almost careen in to me two or three times along the way.

So anyway, Atlanta has been pretty much shut down for the last two days, and given that it's going to be below freezing until at least Thursday (more likely until the weekend) I don't expect the rest of the week to be a hell of a lot better. Everything is closed. Everything is cancelled. Everyone has been advised to stay off the roads. I might not have even tried to go into work at all these past few days, except for one fairly important thing: I work at a hospital. Like law enforcement or the fire department, medicine doesn't take a snow day. So I'll be there. I might get there slowly, and I might skid in there sideways, but I'll be there.

How's the snow where you are? And are you coping with it any better than us in Atlanta?


  1. Anonymous5:37 PM

    Obligatory "The South doesn't get and isn't as used to winter precipitation as the North is, so not only are we less prepared as individuals, it's less fiscally responsible to be as prepared bureaucratically as, say, New York" comment.

    But I hear you. Believe me, I hear you. Carry on.

  2. Anonymous5:49 PM

    I was supposed to come to Atlanta on Wednesday for a conference. The first day of the conference has been cancelled so hopefully things will be better on Thursday.

  3. Oh, I didn't mean that as a judgement at all, of course the South budgets less for snow removal than the more northerly states. I'm just saying that because of that, a moderate snowfall and freeze can cripple an entire city. But something on this scale probably hasn't happened in many, many years, right?

  4. Anonymous5:57 PM

    I lived in Atlanta for the last 4 years and saw the ice that didn't melt for 3 days on my way to the hospital. And now I live in St. Louis - we got about 4 inches of snow last night. The roads were already salted and clear by the time I went to work this morning. Amazing difference.

  5. I grew up in New England and went to college in Atlanta. My sophomore year (1999), there was a huge ice storm and it coated everything in ice. The whole city shut down and my friend and I went exploring. The ice was incredibly beautiful.

    Because Atlanta doesn't do anything about the storms everything was pristine. Very different from Boston, which turns into brown sludge in a day.

  6. I live in Syracuse, current leader of the Golden Snowball competition. (http://goldensnowball.blogspot.com/) We were recently profiled in a NY Times story (http://nyti.ms/ij6inY) where our mayor basically said, "Eh. Whatev." to all the snow. We know snow. We laugh at those who don't. It's just how we are.

  7. Michelle, I live in the UK. Even though the last 3 winters have been severe, and it looks to get worse, nothing is being done and just 4 inches cripples the whole country. I feel your pain ;) Actually I changed my car this year, as I was so fed up of people drive-sliding over-confidently towards me on inches of ice. I got the biggest meanest car I could, with 4-wheel drive so I can stay on the road...

  8. Outre6:48 PM

    I guess another reason ice/snow makes it so difficult to drive in atlanta according to my folks and my own eyeballs is that high percentage of the roads, esp. local ones, is that they are engineered around nature, rather than through it.

    A perfectly straight road on the map on an angle left to right which I think is good for directing rain but probably real bad when iced over. It sorta scares me to even think of driving on those untreated roads in snow.

    I can’t handle snow and cold anymore... I’m pretty sure the only reason I survived the winters in college up in Rochester NY was because I just did not know what to expect. ....there was one year when the city had to start dumping the plowed snow in the river because we had absolutely ran out of space to pile them up in.

  9. Outre6:51 PM

    Wow, edit fail... I’m running on only 3hrs of sleep though.

  10. islandgirl7:24 PM

    I live in SC, just south of Charlotte, so we got a lot of snow too. Because of what happened last year, they seemed a little better prepared with brining the roads before the snow and then salting and plowing. But these were only the major roadways in Charlotte and the outlying areas as well as the interstate. But in the neighborhood, none of this gets done. So the dilemma is how to get out of your 'hood if you live in a hilly area or if the road is totally iced over. It makes no sense if people can't even get out of the 'hood. My husband works retail, and he worked Monday into early evening. Even though his job is not emergency, he had to be there (big box store). Insanely enough, people were in there buying all the milk, bread and soda. He also said his frozen food section was decimated! I'm from Hawaii, so all this snow is new to me. While I love it, I would never think of driving in it. Today we all (my husband was off thankfully) just stayed inside and kept warm.

  11. They aren't prepared for it in Atlanta because 1. They don't have the equipment to deal with it because 2. When do they ever get it.

    And people in NY and in DC [where I live] where they do treat the roads and plow still drive as stupid as they do where you live. It doesn't change, regardless. Everyone has their "compensation" SUV and thinks they can drive same 'ol, same 'ol.

    Don't kid yourself - even the Northeast freaks over a little snow. At least the can handle the bigger stuff. I saw Bloomberg did a FINE job last month.

    Glad you got to work okay.

  12. Riley7:38 PM

    Haha yeah rumor has it that the snow won't thaw till Saturday which means schools and such will be canceled the whole week. I've been living in ATL for twenty years and haven't experience a "snow storm" like this. On Sunday everyone was at Kroger and Costco buying all the groceries to last them a week, I thought they were crazy but it is GA and people here freak out about flurries.
    I drove on Tuesday to work and it was horrible! I drove in the mid 20s and 30s and was a couple miles away before a stupid teen rear backs me going at 60....sigh drive slow people; as the old saying goes "slow and steady wins the race.....after all the turtle did beat the rabbit

  13. Anonymous7:40 PM

    NYC is supposed to get up to 14 inches of snow tonight!!

  14. My banker ex-fiance told me during last year's DC blizzard that at least once I was a "real doctor," the hospital would send "the car service" to come and get me. You mean to tell me that this is not true? Dammit! And now it's too late to go into banking! (Please note sarcasm. I'm guessing that as a former NYer, you know how bankers roll. :D)

  15. Anonymous9:04 PM

    Of course, @notterriblyordinary missed the point of Michelle's post that snow rarely remains snow in the South for long...

    "There were two-inch thick sheets of ice covering the entire (and I mean the entire) highway."

    Come down here and drive on that and see what you know.

  16. Anonymous9:26 PM

    Snow is better than rain! Here is Australia we are experiencing mass flooding. 10 people are dead, 90 missing & the worst is yet to come. Brisbane (Queensland's capital city) is starting to go under right now. Luckily we are fairly well prepared or it would be much worse. Please send us your thoughts!

  17. Anonymous11:51 PM

    In Australia, we've got our own armageddon. A whole state is going under water. Some summer...


  18. it only started snowing a few hours ago in NYC, but the city's vowed to not make a fool of themselves twice -- the plows and salters are already our in full force. from the safety of the bard-haven towers (remember those?), i can hear the plows scraping off the top layer of the west side highway. deafening.

    fingers crossed for a snow day tomorrow! thank goodness i only live on a medical campus, and don't actually work at one. :)

  19. I am not from the US (though I've been there a couple of times), I'm from a small near-sea-level country in Europe, where we have either rainfall or frost (hence we have a lot of speed skating champions ;-)), but it almost never snows. Except for the weeks before Christmas 2010, then we got like 20 cm (8 in.) of snow. Nothing which couldn't be dealt with, the highways, arteries, even the bicycle lanes in my town were all kept nicely ploughed and salted. That is, when they got the chance to plough and salt the roads. We have so many people on such a small area, a bit of disturbance in the weather has tremendous effect on traffic. The first day of snow took my wife (she works at a hospital as well) over an hour to cover less than 10 miles from work to the daycare where our children were waiting. I thought I'd be wise to take off early from work, but the 25 miles I had to cover, took me well over 2 hours. Since the roads were full of traffic, no snow plough could get through. No chance to skid off the road, traffic was simply going too slow for that. When I finally got home at 6:30 pm, I took our 5-year-old out for a snowball fight with the other kids in the neighbourhood, so we had some fun at last :-)

  20. Shannon8:58 AM

    I feel your pain and understand why people in the South wouldn't necessarily be able to cope with snow on the roads. But Michelle, I live in *Pittsburgh*, where people freak out over anything more than flurries, despite the fact that we get snow multiple times each winter. So we have the hellish combination of people who think they need to go 10 mph on a plowed and salted road just because they can see snow in the air and people who think they can continue to do 10 mph over the speed limit because they have a SUV. None of those people can drive in the snow, and it irritates the crap out of me every winter because I learned to drive in the snow in Buffalo, where people don't even really notice 5" of snow and barely slow down for accumulations measured in feet.

    So I guess what I'm saying is, "It's not how you drive in the snow, it's how all the people around you drive in the snow". That's my needlepoint sampler slogan every winter.

  21. Hi Michelle, I'm a reader all the way from Germany and it gets really cold here too, lowest temperature would be -10°C (14°F) DURING THE DAY for the whole month of December I think! Lately we've have tolerable weather, 0° to 5°C and I use to think that these few differences in reading don't really matter much but boy am I thankful still. We had a really white Christmas, at least 20cm of snow! The amazing part is, life goes on! The autobahns (expressways) are in perfect condition and the trams might be a few minutes late (15min at the very worst) but still functioning. Some people even bike still!

    We were driving on the autobahn at 100kph (~60mph) on a snowy Christmas Eve to my mother-in-law's place and I was so amazed that there seemed to be snow everywhere EXCEPT on the highway! I thought to myself, "Oh yeah! I so am in a first world country!" (I'm from the Philippines)

  22. Anonymous12:00 PM

    This medical student on the residency interview trail is now stranded in Providence, RI! 1'-2' (yes, feet) of snow was dumped in a span of around 10 hours. My flight this afternoon to ATL for my next interview was, of course, canceled. I tried to escape by Amtrak, but this plan also derailed!

    Thank goodness for an elegant and relatively inexpensive room, company in people and in books, and gorgeous scenery.

    Hope I can still fly into ATL tomorrow (as reassigned by the airline company)!

  23. Haha. So we had something similar. We normally get snow, but like 6 inches and temperatures around zero (Fahrenheit). Well my hometown got hit with 18 inches and temperatures of -22!! http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=13968179

    Of course, since we're experienced with snow, it didn't mean much other than extra plowing. It's a lot of snow, they had to be careful when piling it up on the side of the roads to not cover the stop signs. And yes, we heard about you in Atlanta, and yes we laughed at you. And yes we still had to go to school, only one snow day.

  24. Anonymous8:51 PM

    Hey I'm in Cleveland where we get tons of snow, regularly, and people still don't know how to drive in it, and similarly Labor and Delivery doesn't shut down for snow (although it does cut down on the "I've had a funny feeling in my left thigh that I haven't gotten around to asking my OB about at my last 3 visit but it is suddenly an emergency worthy of an ambulance ride at 10pm saturday night")

  25. Anonymous12:37 AM

    It's a question of city finances - cities in the south can't afford to buy a bunch of snow moving equipment and have it sit idle most of each year, and some years not be used at all.

    Here in Dallas when we get snow or ice the city sends out trucks that drive slowly over the freeway overpasses and across intersections spreading anti-icing compounds. That's about the only snow or ice management you will see in the south.

    You should also know that water pipes are not insulated in southern states. When the weather is expected to be below 28 I drop the hold and cold water in my kitchen as my house is pier and beam and the kitchen is on an outside wall.

    Hopefully you disconnected your outdoor hoses and then covered the faucets. The hardware stores have covers for outside faucets - both the ones that come out from the brick and the older ones that come up from the ground.

    Very Truly Yours, Lifelong Southerner

  26. Anonymous12:38 AM

    Um, I DRIP the hot and cold water not DROP. Sorry.

  27. Ok, well considering the last time we had a snow like this it was 1993 the question becomes "Are the plows really worth the expense?" So, I'm glad that you made it to work and home both days and I'm equally glad that I didn't even try. I've lived here most of my life and know that I don't do snow.