Winter storm part deux: This time, we’re ready, says Georgia
ATLANTA (CNN) — Fire up the salt trucks. Shutter schools. Position the National Guard.
Two weeks after a few inches of snow paralyzed Atlanta and embarrassed the state, government leaders are tackling the latest round of bad weather with gusto.
The storm could still turn out to be another ugly mess, but it won’t be for lack of trying.
Gov. Nathan Deal declared a weather-related state of emergency for 45 counties in the state Monday, well before snow, sleet and rain were expected to hit.
Atlanta Public Schools announced they’d be closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
And Georgia Power’s top emergency official said he’d already started calling in crews from other states to help fix downed power lines — just in case.
Their biggest worry? The threat of a major ice storm Tuesday night.
“When you’re talking about the amount of ice we’re looking at, it’s catastrophic,” Aaron Strickland, the utility’s storm center manager, told reporters. “What will happen is that the ice will build up on trees, trees will come down and take down the power lines. … So It is an event that we are extremely fearful of, but we’re preparing (by) bringing in outside help at this time.”
Snow, sleet and rain are in the forecast from Monday night through Wednesday morning as temperatures plunge to the 30s. By Wednesday, ice on the roads could make driving “hazardous or impossible,” forecasters from the National Weather Service warned.
The city’s northern suburbs could get 1 to 3 inches of snow, with up to 6 inches blanketing the northeast Georgia mountains. A winter storm watch is in effect Monday through Wednesday morning for Atlanta and stretches west to Birmingham, Memphis and Little Rock.
This storm will be the first test for a 32-member severe weather task force created after last month’s debacle when 2.6 inches of snow shut down Atlanta’s metropolitan area.
The governor apologized to the public — “I’m the governor, the buck stops with me” — and promised to handle things differently next time.
Well, it’s next time.
Governor advises ‘extreme caution’
Deal told reporters Monday that the state was doing everything it could.
“We are making every effort to be prepared for these events, and I would simply say that we should all individually use extreme caution,” he said.
The Georgia Department of Transportation has said it plans to start treating roads with sand and salt after the Monday evening rush hour. Supplies from southern Georgia are being brought to the Atlanta metro area, said transportation department spokeswoman Natalie Dale.
Deal also gave the National Guard a warning order, an advance notice to personnel of the possibility of a “call up” for a state mission. Schools also began announcing their plans to cancel evening activities beginning Monday.
The city of Atlanta, which got hammered for its lackluster performance the last go-round, is on the storm preps bandwagon too.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told reporters that deals with contractors had allowed the city to double the size of its fleet dedicated to pre-treating roads.
Priority roads and bridges will be treated Monday night with a combination of sand and salt, and more supplies are being ordered, City Hall spokesman Carlos Campos said.
The city urged people to take precautions such as filling cars with gas and stocking up on food.
Officials have their fingers crossed that the more coordinated effort will produce better results.
When the storm struck January 28, traffic gridlock occurred almost instantaneously as commuters fled Atlanta en masse. Thousands of school children across northern Georgia spent the night in schools, and countless motorists endured 20-plus hour commutes, if they were lucky enough to get home at all.
The new plan of attack
Deal and emergency officials took plenty of heat for being slow to respond to or just plain oblivious to storm developments the last time around.
The governor and his staff huddled with emergency management, transportation, power company and health officials Monday morning.
“We’ve included health officials and power companies in our preparations because heavy downfalls of ice can knock out power supply,” Deal said. “I want to make sure we’re reaching out to health care facilities so they can have backup plans in place.”
Then at 3 p.m. ET, the governor will activate the state emergency operations center.
“From early afternoon on, please stay off the roads if at all possible so that we limit traffic and make way for workers to treat the highways,” Deal said.
SnowedOutAtlanta, the Facebook group where Georgia residents asked for and offered help during the last storm, was ramping back up Monday.
The forum posted alerts about school closings and the possibility of power outages, and tips about how to prepare for the storm.
The looming storm brought a mix of shrugs and concern at local supermarkets.
“I got some pasta, some salad fixings and some wine,” Katie Derrick told CNN affiliate WGCL. “You know, in case I’m stuck at home, I’ll be well prepared.”
Bob Simmons grabbed a few items too.
“I got some can goods and fruit, veggies and a frozen pizza,” he said. “I’m a Yankee so I’m used to this stuff, but I’m getting nervous now. They keep talking about it.”
But is the talk just that, talk? Not everyone is optimistic that Georgia has learned its lesson.
“We don’t learn,” said one shopper. “It happened before in 2011 and nothing happened. So, 2014, the same thing. 2017, it’s going to happen again and we’re going to be stuck at home.”
By Ed Payne
CNN’s Marlena Baldacci, Jason Hanna, Catherine E. Shoichet and Ralph Ellis contributed to this report.