Gov. Nathan Deal tries to head off political crisis with weather task force

Gov. Nathan Deal tried to minimize the fallout from the icy gridlock that paralyzed metro Atlanta by tapping a task force of meteorologists and other experts charged with making sure there’s not another repeat performance.

The governor also said the state would launch an alert system modeled off of “Amber alerts” for missing children to notify residents and drivers of severe weather. And he said programmers are at work updating the state’s emergency weather app.

“We’re not looking backwards. We’re looking forward. What can we do in the future to avoid situations such as the one that occurred?” said Deal, who faces re-election this year. “We’re going to be as prepared as we can for the next storm.”

Deal has come under fire for his response to the snowfall last week that turned normally short commutes into ordeals that stretched for hours, and for some, through the night.

Deal's Severe Weather Warning Task Force includes law enforcement officials, school administrators, state legislators and emergency responders. He's also tapped Severe Weather Team 2 Chief Meteorologist Glenn Burns and forecasters from three other broadcasters.

Top state officials will also be involved in the task force, including Charley English, the head of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency who apologized for failures as the storm approached. When prodded by a reporter, Deal said he stood by English and praised his work in the wake of the storm.

“He openly acknowledged he made a mistake,” Deal said. “I think that most of us in our lives have made a mistake. Probably not as obvious as maybe this one. But he is conducting himself as I would expect him.”

Both Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed have promised exhaustive reviews of the storm response to ensure the region is better prepared for future storms. Deal said an internal review should be complete within 10 days.

Critics of the government’s response panned Deal’s announcement as a half-measure that does little to assure antsy residents that the city can handle a more significant weather emergency. They noted that Deal offered similar assurances about a 2011 ice storm that crippled the city as he took office.

State Sen. Steve Henson, the chamber’s top Democrat, said a bipartisan legislative committee should probe the response to offer a more independent take.

“We don’t want this to become a whitewash and we don’t want the governor to forget what led us here: The governor failed to notify citizens that this storm had the potential to cause serious problems,” he said.