WINTER STORM: This Time, We’re Ready, Says Georgia
ATLANTA (CNN) — Fire up the salt trucks. Cancel after-school plans. Position the National Guard.
Two weeks after a few inches of snow paralyzed Atlanta and embarrassed the state, Gov. Nathan Deal is tackling the latest round of bad weather with gusto.
He declared a weather-related state of emergency for 45 counties in the state.
The storm could still turn out to be another ugly mess, but it won’t be for lack of trying.
Snow, sleet and rain are in the forecast from Monday night through Wednesday morning as temperatures plunge to the 30s, according to the National Weather Service forecast.
The city’s northern suburbs could get 1-3 inches of snow, with up to 6 inches blanketing the northeast Georgia mountains. A winter storm watch is in effect Monday through Wednesday morning for Atlanta, but also stretching west to Birmingham, Memphis and Little Rock.
This storm will be the first test for a 32-member severe weather task force created after last month’s debacle when 2.6 inches of snow shutdown Atlanta’s metropolitan area.
The governor apologized to the public — “I’m the governor, the buck stops with me” — and promised to handle things differently next time.
Well, it’s next time.
Can you say proactive?
Deal will hold a noon news conference to talk about storm preparations and to give the word on when drivers need to be off the roads.
On Sunday, the Georgia Department of Transportation said it would start treating roads with sand and salt after the Monday evening rush hour. Supplies from southern Georgia are being brought to the Atlanta metro area, said transportation department spokeswoman Natalie Dale.
Deal also gave the National Guard a warning order, an advance notice to personnel of the possibility of a “call up” for a state mission. Schools also began announcing their plans to cancel evening activities beginning Monday.
The city of Atlanta, which got hammered for its lackluster performance the last go-round, is on the storm preps bandwagon too.
Atlanta City Hall spokesman Carlos Campos said priority roads and bridges will be treated Monday night with a combination of sand and salt, and more supplies are being ordered. The city will open a joint operations center and coordinate with the state government. The city urged people to take precautions such as filling cars with gas and stocking up on food.
Officials have their fingers crossed that the more coordinated effort will produce better results.
When the storm struck January 28, traffic gridlock occurred almost instantaneously as commuters fled Atlanta en masse. Thousands of school children across northern Georgia spent the night in schools, and countless motorists endured 20-plus hour commutes, if they were lucky enough to get home at all.
The new plan of attack
Deal and emergency officials took plenty of heat for being slow to respond to or just plain oblivious to storm developments the last time around.
The governor and his staff will huddle with emergency management, transportation, power company and health officials on Monday morning.
“We’ve included health officials and power companies in our preparations because heavy downfalls of ice can knock out power supply,” Deal said. “I want to make sure we’re reaching out to health care facilities so they can have backup plans in place.”
Then at 3 p.m. ET, the governor will activate the state emergency operations center.
“From early afternoon on, please stay off the roads if at all possible so that we limit traffic and make way for workers to treat the highways,” Deal said.
The impending storm brought a mix of shrugs and concern at local supermarkets.
“I got some pasta, some salad fixings and some wine,” Katie Derrick told CNN affiliate WGCL. “You know, in case I’m stuck at home, I’ll be well prepared.”
Bob Simmons grabbed a few items too.
“I got some can goods and fruit, veggies and a frozen pizza,” he said. “I’m a Yankee so I’m used to this stuff, but I’m getting nervous now. They keep talking about it.”
But is the talk just that, talk? Not everyone is optimistic that Georgia has learned its lesson.
“We don’t learn,” said one shopper. “It happened before in 2011 and nothing happened. So, 2014, the same thing. 2017, it’s going to happen again and we’re going to be stuck at home.”
Ralph Ellis contributed to this report.