Gridlock Guy: Like snow days, Atlanta needs storm days

Atlanta traffic was an absolutely waterlogged nightmare last Wednesday morning. Despite a couple of days of warning of severe weather from various meteorologists, many people treated the last day of November as business as usual.

That was a mistake.

When there is a known severe weather event, especially for morning and evening rush hours on weekdays, workplaces and schools need to treat those as snow days.

For all the negatives from the COVID-19 pandemic, one major gain was the ability to work remotely. That capability is impossible for many jobs but those that allow this functionality should make it mandatory for days where severe weather intersects the commuting times.

Schools, although at a great educational, logistical, and financial cost, employed remote learning during the pandemic. School systems should at least consider building in some “remote-optional” functionality on days with forecasted inclement weather.

Nov. 30 saw inches of rainfall in a short time, creating numerous flooding spots. And high winds in these rare fall thunderstorms toppled some trees in the rain-weakened soil.

Even where flooding wasn’t rampant, my colleagues with WSB Triple Team Traffic detailed numerous crashes. Many were garden-variety spinouts, which are especially common in heavy rain. Others were far more serious, such as the crash investigation that shut down I-75/northbound near Moores Mill Road (Exit 254) for nearly two hours before sunrise.

A jackknifed tractor trailer also shut down almost all of I-285/westbound (Inner Loop) near Riverdale Road (Exit 60) in Clayton County for a couple of hours.

These were just two major problems out of the litany of havoc that littered Metro Atlanta’s rain-weary roads. Driving was absolutely dangerous, given the poor conditions and the reckless ineptitude that many motorists display.

The streets were dangerous before most people drove on them. At 4:40 a.m. WSB’s Ashley Frasca tweeted four different flooded spots, three of which were around and near the I-75 Northside/Howell Mill (Exit 252) area.

The serious crash occurring less than a mile away likely was not a coincidence.

Flooding shut down North Avenue near Georgia Tech for much of that morning, prompting one driver’s rescue. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s amazing photojournalist, John Spink, was on scene as the wrecker driver helped the stranded motorist.

WSB’s Smilin’ Mark McKay conversed with GDOT spokesperson Natalie Dale about the state’s prep work ahead of this weather, especially around that huge flooding spot on I-75 near Midtown. Dale confirmed that the state took the autumn out of the drains. But they couldn’t remove the drains from autumn.

“I liken it to clearing your backyard in the morning and when you get home on a windy day — it’s already a mess. That … but times 100. And then heavy rain washed the falling leaves and trash into a low spot,” Dale explained to McKay. “Crews cleared two pickup truck beds of leaves out of that spot and It was cleared before the storm.”

Two trucks-full and ahead of time — that still didn’t stop the flood.

95.5 WSB meteorologist Christina Edwards warned listeners for days that the Tuesday overnight-Wednesday morning drive period was going to be treacherous. Drivers still piloted right into the buzzsaw like cattle to the slaughter.

Edwards confirmed to me that between 1.5 and 2.3 inches of rain fell in that vicinity between North Avenue, Defoors Ferry, and Peachtree Creek/Northside Drive. That is a lot of precipitation in a short time, a phenomenon Atlanta usually only gets a handful of times per year.

Area schools and workplaces routinely close for the threat of a scintilla of snow or ice. Our roads, road crews, first responders, and, especially, drivers cannot handle it. We only get snow once or twice a year, if that. We don’t need to own and maintain dozens of snow plows.

When a major weather event is forecasted ahead of time — not when there are pop-up storms or unexpected heavy fog — then employers and administrators need to be prophylactic. Compelling motorists, encouraging them even, to soldier through inches of driving rain and heavy wind to get into work and school is ridiculous.

Heavy thunderstorms don’t paralyze Atlanta like 2014′s Snowmageddon did, but they do severely hamper the commute. Drivers consistently prove that they handle bad weather poorly. Last Wednesday was proof, yet again, that Atlanta needs storm days - or remote working and school options, at very least. Now is the time to implement storm days, save some huge traffic jams, and, more importantly, save some lives.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.

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