No-pocalypse: Snow doesn’t show in most of metro

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Atlanta interstates clearing as cold clamps down

The promised accumulations of snow in metro Atlanta didn't amount to much by Saturday, and the area's interstates were clear as the sunny but frigid day stretched toward evening.

A midafternoon tour of metro interstates, from the southwest to the northeast, found speed-limit rides and roads dusty with sand and salt, but almost no evidence of ice. At about 2  p.m., a state truck blasted brine onto the Downtown Connector as a State Patrol car shadowed.

The Georgia Department of Transportation said this moring there were 232 traffic accidents or other incidents, such as stalls, statewide early today. But the GDOT’s pavement sensors in metro Atlanta were all well above freezing this afternoon.

Temperatures, already in the low 20s, will drop later today, but wind and sun have helped dry pavement, which will reduce the chance of re-freezing, said GDOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale.

She said crews continue to find and treat icy spots and likely will keep doing that through the weekend. But it appears the worst is over.

“It looks like we are past the first winter storm of 2017,” Dale said.

Of course, conditions that can make a transportation planner smile can also make a disappointed child cry.

What happened to our threatened four inches of snow?

Channel 2 meteorologist Brian Monahan said a warm layer of air moved in at about 5,000 feet above the ground last night. The forecast predicted this warm layer of air to last through the evening and then move out. That would have opened the way for most of the area north of I-20 to transition to snow.

But that warm layer hung tight, turning snow back into water as it passed  through. Then, as the rain emerged from the warm air layer into much colder air closer to earth, it froze again before striking the ground.

And that’s how you disappoint a kid on a January Saturday.



The wisecracks lit up Twitter, including this one: “Atlanta is the only place where you can be snowed in with no snow.”

Meanwhile, the North Georgia mountains received between two and five inches of snow — January business as usual for most folks up there. Robert Graham, emergency services director in in Fannin County (Blue Ridge), said, "We get something like this once a year. People are used to it."

GDOT said its crews began making a new application of brine to metro interstates about 10 a.m. Dale, the spokeswoman, said it would take six to eight hours and another 100,000 gallons of brine to do the job.

The brining was a hedge against the frigid temperatures that moved in overnight. At 11 a.m., the temperature in Atlanta was 23 (beneath sunny skies). Channel 2 meteorologist Karen Minton forecast a high today of 31 and a low tomorrow of 16.

Dale said the brine the GDOT crews were putting down would melt remaining ice and help to prevent refreezing.

Early in the day, GDOT had been warning people to stay off the roads. Conditions were worst in the northern metro area, which received a bit of snow and more ice. But isolated patches in the south and central metro area – like eastbound I-20 – also were icy.

Residents largely did their part: we stayed inside Friday night and Saturday morning — after buying just about every slice of bread in metro Atlanta, of course.



Despite the slick roads, GDOT spokesman Scott Higley called the way the winter storm played out “the best-case scenario.”

There was little traffic on routes like I-285 and I-20 this morning. Higley said he’s glad it’s a Saturday, and not a Friday morning, when many more motorists — fooled by the lack of snow — might try to get to work.

“If it were Friday, it would be disastrous,” he said.

Resume earlier report:

When the Georgia governor, Atlanta mayor and weather  forecasters said on Friday to be prepared for up to 4 inches of snow, people listened.

Schools dismissed early, many people left work early, and roads and interstates filled up quickly with drivers in the early afternoon. By the time light, frozen precipitation began moving through the northern suburbs early Friday afternoon, the panic had already set in.

“People just started freaking out,” Michael McHugh told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Normally, it takes McHugh about 10 minutes to make it from work to his Acworth home. But Friday, it took 30 minutes. The cold, steady rain mixed with sleet and caused some drivers to slow down considerably on Cobb Parkway, frustrating drivers like McHugh, who stopped for weekend groceries.

Then, it was time to wait. For not much, as it turned out.

The winter storm warning will end Saturday afternoon, when temperatures will linger in the low 30s. A blast of really frigid air comes in behind the snow, too; lows in the teens are forecast for Sunday.

» The AJC's full coverage of storm preparations

Hitting the stores

We responded, of course, by going shopping.

At the super-size Kroger in Atlanta’s Glenwood Park, the aisles were jammed with shoppers picking up last-minute necessities Friday morning. The crowds were good-natured and the shelves relatively well-stocked.

Leslie Lutkowski of nearby Ormewood Park was stocking up before dashing off to pick up her elementary school-age children. Among the items in her cart: extra batteries, fixings for a big pot of chili, hot cocoa mix (for the kids) and two bottles of Malbec (for mom). Lutkowski said her kids are excited about the possibility of sledding and making snowmen.

“They are over the moon,” she said with a laugh. “Me? Not so much.”

After nearly a week spent on vacation in Orlando, the McDonalds, who live in Kennesaw, swapped their shorts for fleece jackets and scarves. The family cut the trip short a day to get home and head to the Target in Acworth for groceries.

“We needed it,” Laura McDonald said. “When we got back, there was nothing left at home.”

Her husband, Wes, remembers all too well being stuck on the interstate during the January 2014 snowstorm. The father of two said this time, he planned to stay put at home. "I'm not getting stuck again," he said.

» Detailed forecast, interactive radar map



Hurrying home

Metro Atlanta's major school districts — Atlanta, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Marietta and Decatur — all dismissed early Friday.

Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed both urged everyone to get home by Friday afternoon. Deal declared a state of emergency, which took effect at noon, for 79 counties, including all of metro Atlanta.

» Officials: Get off roads

It seemed that many heeded the warnings of government and transportation leaders. Friday morning’s rush hour started earlier than normal, likely because of workers starting sooner in order to leave early, according to Scott Higley, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Friday afternoon, drivers again hit the roads earlier, eager to beat the storm, but causing traffic jams much earlier than normal. Those still commuting Friday evening were pleasantly surprised.

“There wasn’t a lot of traffic, which was nice,” said Tim Shannon of Lilburn, who drove home from Johns Creek.

GDOT finished pre-treating Atlanta-area roads with brine Thursday night. Because of the Friday afternoon rain, crews were adding salt to the road late Friday to ensure there was enough.

“We are intently watching the conditions of the roads,” Higley said.

That included monitoring 55 sensors that measure the surface temperature of the roads across the state. Higley said the department’s embrace of such technology “is all new since 2014” — when 2 inches of snow brought Atlanta to a grinding halt — and supplements its “boots on the ground, eyes on the road” tactics.

Other transportation systems also faced challenges.

MARTA said Friday afternoon it planned to keep a regular schedule, but would continue tracking conditions. And Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the world's busiest, will have some 400 workers on 12-hour shifts to keep things up and running, officials said.

But travelers should check with their airlines directly before heading to the airport, warned airport general manager Roosevelt Council. Delta had already canceled about 350 flights in advance of the storm hitting Atlanta, its largest hub.



Businesses scramble

While customers picked grocery stores clean in advance of the storm, Home Depot reported a parallel push for stuff that would help residents cope with snow.

“Our stores have been busy with customers buying everything from ice melt to shovels,” spokesman Matthew Harrigan said. “Batteries, heaters — people are buying your typical winter weather supplies.”

The Atlanta-based chain had no plans to close stores, but will make decisions as the weather dictates, Harrigan said.

Not all businesses were booming in advance of the storm. Megan Winokur, who owns Stone Mountain Clay and Glaze Co. with her husband, said the warnings from forecasters to stay home kept away customers, including those who typically drive from other states.

“Several folks that were supposed to come in to do big business said they aren’t coming,” Winokur said Friday afternoon.

Local customers were still shopping Friday, but Winokur wasn’t sure the business would be able to open on Saturday. It’s not an easy decision because in addition to losing business, Winokur must weigh the safety of her customers and employees.

People panicked too early this time, she said. There was only one thing Winokur could tell regional customers.

“Sorry, Georgia can’t function when there’s white stuff coming from the sky.”

Late Friday afternoon in the North Georgia town of Blue Ridge, the Main Street that is usually bustling with tourists and locals became increasingly quiet and sparsely populated. Many of the book stores and clothing boutiques and pubs shut down early.

Anita MacDonald of Atlanta remained unperturbed as she browsed the boutique called “The House of Threads.” She had the store to herself. Meanwhile, restaurant owners and bed and breakfast operators were already upset with the weather, having received several cancellations from people unwilling to brave the forecast.

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Cancellations and closings

The Wild Hog Supper has, for 54 years, marked the beginning of the annual meeting of the Georgia Legislature. Held at the state’s Railroad Depot across Martin Luther King Jr. Drive from the Capitol, the dinner is a welcome-back-to-Atlanta event for lawmakers, elected officials, lobbyists and voters. For the past four years it has been run by the Georgia Food Bank Association, which it benefits. But because of the storm, the event will be rescheduled and tickets honored on the new date, Food Bank officials said.

The snowstorm forced some area attractions to close, including, Zoo Atlanta and Stone Mountain's Snow Mountain. Yes, even Snow Mountain won't brave the storm.

The University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia State planned Friday night to play weekend home games as planned. Many metro movie theaters, including those run by NCG Cinema and AMC, closed Friday in advance of the storm.

— Staff writers Craig Schneider, Shannon McCaffrey, Leon Stafford, Greg Bluestein, Mark Niesse, Michael E. Kanell, Tyler Estep, Kelly Yamanouchi and Aaron Gould Sheinin contributed to this report.