Gridlock Guy: Snowmageddon anniversary, remembering Captain Herb Emory

Saturday marked three years to the day that ice and snow paralyzed metro Atlanta for most of a week. The infamous winter storm, deemed “Snowmageddon” (or “Icemageddon, as I prefer to call it), taught Atlanta many lessons. You have read about some right here in this column, as Mark Arum wrote in 2014 about the importance of having an emergency pack of tools and snacks in your vehicle. Public officials learned to be more proactive in treating the roads and canceling school. And we, the public, learned to take any winter weather in this region with utter importance.

But this column is about a different lesson: the sacrifice and dedication of Captain Herb Emory.

News 95.5 and AM-750’s lead traffic anchor for then-23 years was one of the centerpieces of the coverage of the winter storm. His voice and those of the the team he led were a major lifeline for many commuters stranded in the flash-frozen gridlock. Captain Herb worked about 12 straight hours on the first day the storm rolled in, detailing the deteriorating road conditions and massive backups, dishing out advice, and passing along advisories from police that had contacted him. A storm of this intensity called for an expert and servant of his magnitude and Captain Herb stepped up like he always did.

A part of the story you may not know is how much Captain Herb had to give up, just to be on the air that day. Charlotte Motor Speedway was hosting its annual NASCAR Media Tour and Captain Herb always took three or four days off work to go cover it.

NASCAR was more of a passion project for him than a necessity to cover. Every time he went to Charlotte - or to Atlanta Motor Speedway, for that matter - Captain Herb was an instant draw. Many of his old buddies came right over to him like they had not lost any time. And he loved the access to the drivers and other staples of NASCAR. But our Program Director Pete Spriggs gave him a phone call Monday, the day before the storm, saying that he may need to turn around and come home.

Captain Herb did not sleep in on Tuesday morning. He probably got up earlier than the free hotel breakfast and made a B-line for Atlanta, arriving in the nick of time.

I was working solo in the WSB Traffic Center, anticipating the storm to arrive later than it did. At about 10 a.m., we started getting freezing rain and ice reports in Cherokee, Bartow, and Cobb counties. Captain Herb was just entering the range for the two-way radio in his vehicle to operate and he started leading the reports with me, until he got established in his home studio in Douglasville.

He had rightfully taken off of work to go cover his passion. He didn’t have to come back from vacation. He didn’t have to work 12-hour shifts tirelessly. But Mother Nature called and Captain Herb answered. He always put the mission before his gratification. He set the bar for how the WSB Traffic Team tries to operate now.

Just two-and-a-half months after Snowmaggedon, a heart attack claimed Captain Herb’s life. He and a law enforcement buddy of his saw a wreck in front of his house, rescued the people from the vehicle, and then directed traffic around it. That’s when the Lord brought him home.

Tragic as it was, how fitting was his exit? He died helping others and did so just a few weeks after ending his vacation after only one day and working marathon shifts during one of Atlanta’s worst traffic problems. Helping others was always Captain Herb’s first mission. That’s the lesson I want to take from Snowmageddon 2014.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive airborne anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB is the new Gridlock Guy. He writes his own traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at doug.turnbull@coxinc.com