Snow creates mess of roadways, but warmer relief on the way

The snow may have looked pretty, but the novelty of the Atlanta area’s latest winter storm is gone.

This morning’s commute will again be tricky, despite around-the-clock efforts to clear the roads. The storm that arrived Tuesday evening was initially expected to focus on North Georgia, but once again reached far south in the state. Roadway ice combined with temperatures that stayed below freezing made travel dangerous throughout Wednesday.

But the end is in sight. Today’s high temperature will reach 42 degrees before warming to the low 50s on Friday, according to Channel 2 Action News Chief Meteorologist Glenn Burns. The warm-up, and plenty of sunshine, will continue through Sunday, when Atlanta will hit the 60-degree mark, Burns said.

Until then, metro Atlanta must wait to thaw out from the latest round of winter in a record-setting season for cold temperatures and snow. Metro students are again out of school today, while their parents were less eager for a second day interrupted by Mother Nature.

“I am a Southerner from a long line of Southerners and certainly not used to shoveling snow, de-icing windshields or even wearing snow boots,” Samantha Brown-Parks, a doctor and medical consultant in Buckhead, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “However, it baffles me that a city of this size and budget cannot sufficiently prepare for what would be a typical winter day north of the Mason-Dixon line. Instead we have numerous missed financial and educational opportunities. This is NOT how you make an economy thrive!”

The Georgia Department of Transportation — an agency responsible for about 18,000 miles of roads statewide — reported 12,849 miles were affected by the winter storm. That’s almost three-quarters of the state’s roads. GDOT crews began working Tuesday to treat roads, but there was no way to prevent the refreezing, according to spokesman Scott Higley.

“You can’t plow ice. You can’t scrape ice off the roads,” Higley said. “You have to wait for the salt and gravel mixture to break up the ice and let the sun and wind do their job.”

MARTA wasn’t a reliable option for commuters either: Trains suffered delays and the transit officials stopped some bus routes because of icy roads. MARTA officials said 25 buses slid off the road or got stuck Wednesday, but no injuries were reported.

A frozen mess

Although the sun helped melt some roadways Wednesday, below-freezing temperatures meant wet pavement was expected to re-freeze overnight, officials warned. A wind chill advisory for metro Atlanta and other parts of North Georgia was extended until 10 a.m. today, according to the National Weather Service.

The mid-week storm dumped 2.3 inches of snow at the Atlanta airport — a big increase from the average 0.7 inches the city typically gets in January, according to Channel 2 Action News meteorologists. It was more than enough to cover roadways, leaving slick, dangerous pavement in the paths of morning commuters.

In Gwinnett County, police had worked 567 traffic incidents by 2 p.m. Wednesday. In Atlanta, a police officer was injured in one of the nearly 200 wrecks in the city. And in DeKalb, the 911 center reports it took 257 calls about auto accidents, including nine hit-and-runs, between 10 p.m. Tuesday and 5 p.m. Wednesday. Parts of I-85 in Jackson County and I-20 in Newton County were shut down for hours after truck accidents blocked lanes.

After a 2014 winter storm stranded motorists for hours and made Atlanta a national laughingstock, GDOT took steps to improve its storm response. It bought more equipment, started pre-treating roads with brine and improved coordination with local governments that handle city and county roads.

“You can always have more (resources),” Higley said. “But I think we’re in the best shape we’ve ever been in.”

Not a day off for everyone

Although schools, workplaces and many governments remained closed Wednesday, it wasn’t a day off for everyone.

“Work must go on,” said Jeff Quimby, an accountant who was working from his Lilburn home Wednesday. “Fortunately, the Internet allows the flexibility to do so.”

Quimby’s office, about 7 miles away near Gwinnett Place Mall, was closed Wednesday, so he spent the day in the solitude of his basement – far away from his wife and two girls, who were out of school. But by working at home, Quimby and others were able to avoid the treacherous driving conditions.

In downtown Atlanta, workers in Central Atlanta Progress’ ambassador corps and clean teams were busy Wednesday salting and shoveling sidewalks and crosswalks. A Mary Kay convention brought thousands of the cosmetics company’s top sellers to Atlanta. The 56th Annual Progressive Insurance Atlanta Boat Show, meanwhile, opens today, bringing thousands of dealers and would-be boat buyers to the Georgia World Congress Center.

“We’re doing 24-hour mode full on,” said David Wardell, vice president of operations and public safety for Central Atlanta Progress. “They’re focused on salting crosswalks and sidewalks.”

At Atlanta’s airport, numerous flights were cancelled due to the storm, which has moved across the Southeast. For those who flights remained on schedule, security line wait times were more than two hours due to limited Transportation Security Administration staffing.

What’s next

Although many roadways were cleared by road crews or sunshine on Wednesday, many metro roads were expected to return to a slick mess with the frigid temperatures overnight. For commuters who can use MARTA, the transit agency plans to resume rail service at 6 a.m. on a modified weekend schedule. Limited bus service will also resume at 6 a.m.

The majority of classrooms across metro Atlanta and North Georgia will sit empty again today, leaving school systems to plan how the missed time will be made up.

Gov. Nathan Deal said Wednesday that state government will remain closed today across the 83 counties impacted by winter weather. The state House made an early call on Wednesday to delay its opening to 2 p.m. today and the Senate will convene at 1:30 p.m.

And the best news? The forecast through Sunday includes plenty of sunshine and no precipitation.

— Staff writers Chris Joyner, J. Scott Trubey, Arielle Kass, Joshua Sharpe, Vanessa McCray and Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this report.