But here’s the thing: Should a two-inch snowstorm–well forecast, I might add–bring absolute gridlock to the ninth largest metro area in the country? Drivers abandoning cars, people trapped in parking garages, kids stuck in schools (and on busses). A nightmare.
I had a weird flashback early yesterday morning as I drove from Fulton County to Gwinnett to drop off my car for servicing. As I crossed over Peachtree Industrial I noticed traffic was bumper to bumper heading into Atlanta. The snow hadn’t yet started.
I know what’s gonna happen, I thought. When the snow hits, everybody’s gonna bolt for home and there’ll be massive traffic jam. I had no idea, however, it would be as bad as it turned out.
How did I know there would be a big mess? I’d seen it before. Boston. The Blizzard of ’78. Again, a well-forecast storm. It was gonna be big. Everybody knew it was coming.
But since it wasn’t snowing early Monday morning on February 6, 1978, everybody headed to work. I was one of them. The prevailing thinking was When it gets bad, we’ll beat feet.
Well, it got bad shortly after noon. Everybody beat feet. Everybody. Highway 128 (think Atlanta’s 285) became a parking lot. But the snow didn’t stop at two inches. It snowed and it snowed and it snowed. People got out of their cars and walked home. Vehicles were buried in place. Plows couldn’t get through. The city shut down for the better part of a week.
What I’m suggesting is, whether in Boston or in Atlanta, the issue is perception. People perceive that it isn’t snowing when they get up, so they think I’m going into work. I can always bail out when it gets bad. The problem is, in Atlanta, about two million other people were thinking the same thing yesterday.
I’ll admit, winter storm warnings in the South have a checkered past. Some have verified about as well as predictions the Falcons were going to the Super Bowl this year. But yesterday’s forecast was about as much of a slam dunk as we ever get here. Perhaps forecasters should have emphasized their confidence with more vigor.
Another factor (but not a major one): winter storm warnings were a bit tardy in being issued for the north metro area. Yes, snow was forecast, but not much. It wasn’t until Monday night it became clear the north side was going to get more than an inch.
Still, as I said, the forecasts were good. Timing and all. Perhaps meteorologists should attach confidence factors to their predictions in the future. High, medium, hallucinatory. Something like that.
Or maybe people just have to realize that even in the best of times, traffic moves like a slug in mud in Atlanta. And that’s when our “rush hour” is four hours long. When you try to compact it into a real hour . . . well, zombies could have their greatest tailgate party ever.
Next time, commuters need to remember that when they think they can wait until the snow or ice comes a-calling and then boogie, it’s not a unique thought. A few million other people are on the same wave length.
It doesn’t work well.