A commute turns into a nightmare -- and boredom -- as storm paralyzes Atlanta

Andrea Duke had been in her car for eight hours, and she still wasn’t home. She’s wasn’t alone.

Betsy Griffin, Lisa Appleton, Dave Allen and Meghan Benson were still in their cars after 8 p.m. after heading out as early as noon, the commuters told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I just finished listening to ‘The Hunger Games’ audible book, played all my lives on Candy Crush, met 10 people in various cars and watched the same policeman save four people,” Candace Bazemore said in an email.

The winter storm that paralyzed metro Atlanta and other parts of Georgia prompted Gov. Nathan Deal to declare a state of emergency Tuesday afternoon for all 159 counties. He addressed the government’s efforts to help unclog roadways and rescue stranded motorists late Tuesday night, and said troopers being sent to schools where students were stranded.

Shortly before midnight, about 50 students were still aboard Atlanta Public School buses, a spokeswoman for the district said. In DeKalb County, at least 20 vehicles were involved in a pileup on U.S. 78 eastbound, past Hugh Howell Road. All lanes were blocked around 1 a.m. Wednesday.

In a matter of hours, snow blanketed the area Tuesday afternoon. But any hopes of a winter wonderland were dashed by a more miserable reality. Late Tuesday night, hundreds of vehicles were still stranded on interstates and side streets throughout the metro area.

Take rush-hour traffic in Atlanta, add inches of slushy, slick mess and the result was gridlock on interstates in all directions. For hours, roads and interstates have remained jammed stranding some drivers, and there were too many wrecks to count.

“We’ve got major jams on all of the interstates in Atlanta,” said Doug Turnbull in the AM750 and 95.5FM News/Talk WSB Traffic Center.

Late Tuesday night, the Georgia State Patrol said troopers had investigated 940 crashes resulting in one death and 104 injuries. Yvonne C. Nash, 60, of Griffin, died after losing control of her Ford Explorer in Coweta County, the GSP said.

Many school systems dismissed early, sending some parents scrambling home. Others seemed to hit the roads, too. But it was anything but a typical commute, even by Atlanta standards.

“People are panicking trying to get home and it’s causing worse problems,” said Karlene Barron, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation, adding that people are traveling too fast for conditions.

But no one was getting anywhere fast. Drivers reported commutes of up to eight hours, and the clock was still ticking Tuesday night for dozens of others. Some school buses couldn’t run routes and were forced to return to schools. And teachers and students at some schools were spending the night in the classroom.

Check today's full weather report and track changes.

Check updated school closings.

Below is a look at issues affecting where you live:

City of Atlanta and south Fulton County

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed urged motorists to stay off the roads, if possible, so that city crews could continue efforts to clear snow and ice.

Motorists were advised Tuesday night to avoid the following intersections:

  • Fulton Industrial Boulevard at Camp Creek Parkway
  • Cascade Road at Fulton Industrial Boulevard
  • South Fulton Parkway from Stonewall Tell Road to Ga. 92
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Drive at Fulton Industrial Boulevard
  • Flat Shoals Road from Mallory Road to Old National Highway

Cherokee County

  • I-575 northbound is closed at Towne Lake Parkway, the City of Woodstock said shortly after 6 p.m. It re-opened around 7:30 p.m. 
  • The DOT reported that icy conditions led to wrecks on I-575 northbound at Riverstone Parkway, Airport Road and Howell Bridge Road, while next door in Bartow County, all lanes of I-75 in both directions were icy at Ga. 20, with cars spinning out on the ice, according to the DOT. Icing was also reported on U.S. 41 in Bartow and north Cobb counties.
  • The county's school system announced shortly before 3 p.m. that it was suspending bus service due to road conditions. "Until our roads are made safer, it isn't prudent to continue to put students on buses at this time," the school system posted online. Students at schools will remain there until parents can pick them up, and schools are prepared to shelter students overnight.

Cobb County

  • The county's fire department is offering shelter in fire stations for motorist that may be stranded and without heat. Call 911 to report your location.
  • Just after 7 p.m., the Marietta Police Department confirmed that all major roadways and some intersections in the city were still gridlocked with traffic. Crews were continuing to dump sand on iciest spots and assist stranded motorists, Officer Dave Baldwin said.   Those stranded in the city where asked to call Marietta police at 770-794-5334, rather than 911. 
  • Police dispatchers told the WSB Traffic Center at 11:30 a.m. that several ice related crashes had just occurred, adding, "Don't come into Cobb County."
  • Heavy and very slow traffic on I-75 North just north of Chastain Road. I-75 South at that spot is moving a little better. I-75 South of I-285 in Clayton is going slow in both directions.
  • The school system announced around 3 p.m. that buses were being delayed transporting students home.
  • Tuesday night's County Commission meeting was postponed.

DeKalb County

The following roads were closed late Tuesday, a county spokesman said.

  • N. Hairston Road at Central Drive
  • Woodwind Road at Woodwind Court
  • Pleasent Wood Road at Snapfinger Drive
  • I-20 WB at Glenwood Road
  • Rainbow Drive at Rainbow Circle
  • 1500 block of Snapfinger Road
  • 600 block Ponce De Leon Place
  • 3200 block of Mercer University Drive
  • Bridge at Clairmont Road
  • Mercer University Drive

Fayette County

By 2 p.m. many secondary roads in Fayette County were covered in snow and sleet and had become treacherous. Traffic was slowed significantly even on major roads such as state highway 74, a major artery along the west side of Peachtree City. The drive between Newnan and Peachtree City, which would normally take a half-hour or less, was taking more than an hour.

Fayette’s school system released most school students about 1:30 p.m., adding buses and parents to the traffic mix just as conditions deteriorated.

Forsyth County

The following roadways are closed, according to the county’s sheriff’s office:

  • McGinnis Ferry Road at Old Alpharetta Road
  • East Maple at the Cumming Square
  • Atlanta Hwy. (Hwy. 9) at Liberty subdivision is down to one lane
  • 4460 Post Road is blocked due to cars being struck.
  • Hwy. 369 at Wallace Tatum is blocked

Gwinnett County

Ga. 141 north and southbound was deemed impassable late Tuesday.

Buford Highway at Pleasant Hill in Gwinnett County was closed Tuesday afternoon due to ice.

Wrecks were visible on both sides of I-85.

Henry County

At mid-day Tuesday, Henry County was starting to have some road issues forcing officials to close some roads, including Flippen Road, just off Jodeco Road. It was scheduled for closure between McCullough and Jodeco. No major accidents have been reported yet in the area but “a lot of people have trouble navigating” the roads, said Don Ash, Henry County’s director of Emergency Management.

North Fulton County

  • The City of Roswell 911 Center said it emergency responders were only dispatching to wrecks with injuries due to the overwhelming number of calls. Motorists involved in wrecks were urged to exchange information with other drivers and to contact insurance companies.
  • In Alpharetta, authorities closed the Haynes Bridge Road bridge over Ga. 400 just before 1 p.m. because of icing. Other icy roadways included: Mayfield Road, Webb Bridge near Creekview Elementary, Harris Road, Westside Parkway near the Honda facility, Kimball Bridge overpass, Webb Bridge near Big Creek, Milton Avenue at Canton Street, Area of Preston Ridge
  • Roads in the Mountain Park area were deemed impassable shortly after 3 p.m. Motorists were advised to drive slow and avoid the area if possible.

Paulding County

The Hiram Community Center, located at 217 Main Street, is serving as an emergency shelter.

More on metro Atlanta roads

Natalie Dale, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation, said the heaviest snow and sleet is expected to move through around rush hour Tuesday evening.

“You have more commuters going slower with icy roads,” Dale said. “It’s not ideal, it’s not what we wanted.”

About a dozen metro area district office managers and statewide maintenance managers crowded around two long conference tables in the GDOT Traffic Management Center Tuesday, fielding phone calls and checking weather and traffic reports as they dispatched crews to treat icy patches.

Some roads were so congested that dump trucks carrying gravel and salt couldn’t get to where they needed to go.

Nevertheless, Dale maintained that it was not a bad decision to have advised people to leave work early Tuesday. She said it’s better for people to be on the roads now than later, when night falls and temperatures continue to drop.

“It is better despite the congestion for us to have motorists on the road during daylight hours than it is at nighttime,” Dale said. “If the alternative is for people to leave when it is getting dark, it creates a worse problems.”

Latest forecast information

The snow is expected to end late Tuesday night, but it’s not going anywhere, according to Channel 2 Action News chief meteorologist Glenn Burns. Overnight temperatures will dip into the teens and Wednesday’s forecast includes below-freezing temperatures, Burns said.

The National Service issued a new winter storm warning, in effect from 9 a.m. Tuesday through 7 a.m. Wednesday, and called for “moderate” snow with accumulations of 1 to 2 inches across the metro area.

Areas of the state south of metro Atlanta could see up to 3 inches of snow, the Weather Service said, while an ice storm warning was in effect from 5 p.m. Tuesday through 5 p.m. Wednesday for the southeast corner of Georgia.

Across far north Georgia, a winter weather advisory was in place Tuesday, calling for up to an inch of snow.

Temperatures should finally warm into the low 40s Thursday afternoon, forecasters said.

Snowfall totals

From the National Weather Service:

Forsyth County – 1.8 inches

Gwinnett County – 0.7

Butts County – 0.5

Bartow County – 2.0

Fayette County – 2.2

Henry County – 2.0

North Fulton County – 1.0

Barrow County – 1.2

Charity scrambles

Jeffrey M. Smythe, executive director of Meals on Wheels Atlanta, said the nonprofit hoped to get a jump on Wednesday’s scheduled deliveries to seniors. He said about half of the meals for Wednesday were delivered Tuesday, but staffers discontinued the deliveries as the snow continued to fall.

He said if conditions worsen, Meals on Wheels may issue a call for volunteers with four-wheel drive vehicles to help deliver meals. About 300 meals are delivered each day.

— Staff writers Mike Morris, Andria Simmons, Shelia Poole, Tammy Joyner, Scott Thurston and Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.