Unprecedented Metro Atlanta Traffic Jam: Who's to Blame?

Metro Atlanta residents frustrated as a couple of inches of snow brings region to a complete and total standstill.

A snowplow works to clear the 10th Street bridge in Midtown early Wednesday morning. Credit: Frank Arsics
A snowplow works to clear the 10th Street bridge in Midtown early Wednesday morning. Credit: Frank Arsics
It was only a couple of inches of snow, but it paralyzed metro Atlanta on Tuesday leaving in its wake at least a couple of days of miserable, frozen traffic conditions throughout the region.

Sixteen, 17, 18 hours and more after Tuesday’s rush hour traffic began around noon, cars and trucks were still in gridlock in several spots around the metro area.

The Downtown Connector, I-75 North near West Paces Ferry Road, and I-285 near Ashford-Dunwoody Road were just a few of the areas where icy conditions had left motorists creeping along in bumper-to-bumper conditions. In the traffic nightmare, hundreds of vehicles have been stranded on interstates and side streets from Cobb to DeKalb and beyond.

Late Tuesday night, the Georgia State Patrol said it had investigated 940 crashes resulting in one death and 104 injuries. The fatality came as a result of a 60-year-old woman from Griffin lost control of her vehicle in Coweta County.

Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for the entire state Tuesday afternoon and joined Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed at a late Tuesday night press conference to urge motorists to stay off the roads and to assure Georgians that the parking lot conditions on roads were being addressed by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT).

The governor called it an “unexpected storm,” but thousands of state residents would beg to differ as weather forecasts for days indicated that the possibility of Tuesday’s arctic conditions existed.

"This is absolutely the craziest thing I've ever seen," East Cobb resident Eric Stein posted on Facebook. "Two inches of snow and the ATL is at a complete and total standstill."

In some cases, school buses were unable able to complete their routes and were forced to schools where students and staff stayed overnight. Around 5 a.m., GDOT and the Georgia National Guard were near Cascade Road helping to rescue almost 90 students who had been on a bus for about 12 hours.

Facebook and Reddit pages were created to help stranded motorists who needed a place to stay. If you know of a friend or loved one somewhere in the metro area who is stranded, here is a running list of places offering shelter.

Public school systems in Atlanta, Fulton County and DeKalb County began sending their kids home early on Tuesday afternoon, about the same time businesses were sending their employees home for the day. The result was traffic chaos that Mayor Reed blamed on timing.

“The fact of the matter is we do take responsibility for having the business community, government and schools basically leave all at once,” said Reed, who added that the city had 30 spreaders and 40 snow plows working to clear streets. “We created a situation from a traffic standpoint that was very challenging.”

And the challenge continues into Wednesday. While the precipitation has left metro Atlanta, the ice on the roads has not. Temperatures are expected to stay below freezing Wednesday with a high in the very low 30s. Thursday’s high could get to 40 degrees in some spots while the low 50s are forecasted for Friday.

By then, hopefully every stranded motorist will have gotten home, but none of them will forget where they were during this unprecedented storm.

What’s your take on Tuesday’s weather-related, mass traffic jam? Why did it happen and what could the region do better next time to avoid another weather shutdown around the metro area.

Lisa Lise Taquette January 29, 2014 at 07:58 AM
I blame the employers and school for waiting until the last minute to release people from work and school. And the roads can't handle everyone leaving at once.
Brannon Glover January 29, 2014 at 08:57 AM
I blame the city for not preparing early since we knew there was something coming, but not sure how big. There should've been trucks dumping salt early on the day of the snowfall. Kasim Reed and Nathan Deal were not smart about this at all.
MrOpinion January 29, 2014 at 10:30 AM
Meteorologic science is real. Satellite imagery of the storm (sleet and snow) approaching and also the rate of speed was announced for at least one week in advance. I blame employers,government officials and school systems for not believing in science and requiring students and employees to report to work. I also blame adults who do not believe in weather forecasts.
Rick January 29, 2014 at 12:01 PM
-The Governor for ongoing incompetence in general. -Mayor Reed for completely dropping the ball. -Businesses obsession with keeping people working and productive as long as possible no matter what the cost -Whoever makes the call to close the schools for the day. Kids should have never gone to school yesterday. Atlanta cannot handle a half inch of snow...what were they thinking?? All you had to do was look at a satellite map!
Jimmy Berry January 29, 2014 at 01:35 PM
Anyone who doubts the National Weather Service (NWS) forecast should carefully read the "forecast discussions" issued by the Peachtree City office (Atlanta) starting MONDAY at 4:30am: - a full day before the event unfolded. Specifically, NWS begins their discussion with: "...WINTER STORM WITH SIGNIFICANT IMPACTS REMAINS LIKELY..." and later writes: "SNOW/SLEET/FREEZING RAIN...NOW HAVE LIKELY TO CATEGORICAL SNOW ACROSS ENTIRE ATLANTA METRO". Forecaster Deese, who authored this discussion, also writes: "PERSONALLY FAVOR PRECIP SPREADING FURTHER NORTH THAN MODELS PROJECT WHICH WOULD IN THIS CASE BRING WINTER HAZARDS NORTHWARD AS WELL." Again, this discussion was written over 24 hours BEFORE the storm! There is little ambiguity in this forecast and it’s a mystery why government officials were so lax in heeding a well-written warning in what should have been a slam-dunk decision to close schools and government offices on Tuesday.
O.T. January 29, 2014 at 03:02 PM
Idiocracy. It's not just a prediction. It's our reality.
O.T. January 29, 2014 at 03:24 PM
I think the worst assumption we make it that elected officials are literate.
DecaturDan January 29, 2014 at 03:54 PM
At some point, a certain amount of blame has to lie in ourselves. We can always look at the weather, see what's coming, and decide "nope". My employer didn't close the doors until 3 and send everyone home. However, the thought hit me to go ahead and leave at 10 when the snow started. I could have - I didn't. Also, a bunch of the traffic issues were caused by people driving too quickly and carelessly for conditions and wrecking out. So yes, city and state leadership failed on many fronts, but we-the-people own a fair amount of blame in this too.
Esther Patterson January 29, 2014 at 04:19 PM
Anyone who doubts the National Weather Service (NWS) forecast should carefully read the "forecast discussions" issued by the Peachtree City office (Atlanta) starting MONDAY at 4:30am. A full day before the event unfolded. Specifically, NWS begins their discussion with: "...WINTER STORM WITH SIGNIFICANT IMPACTS REMAINS LIKELY..." and later writes: "SNOW/SLEET/FREEZING RAIN... Why were the sand/salt trucks scheduled for early Tuesday morning. In a state where people are not conditioned to react the way people react in the Northern states, there should have already been a plan in place. In the past Georgia and Alabama have experienced a few snow storms and this should have given those in authority a thought... hmmm, maybe we should have a plan in place if and when this happens again. Kids sleeping in schools. people sleeping in grocery stores, motorists stranded overnight on not one but two major highways... Where do they do this at with only a couple inches of snow... Oh! that would be Georgia and Alabama. Downtown Atlanta was a frozen mess. Even seen a police cruiser get hit. No dismissal planning. Disastrous. I traveled early to take care of business in College Park, on the way back home. (I elected to take the city route), the highways had already gridlocked by 1:00pm I was just totally amazed at the way people conducted themselves... good bad and indifferent. It took all of "5" hrs. to reach home. I am from up North and all I can say is... PLEASE GET A PLAN IN ORDER for WINTER INCLEMENT WEATHER!!!!!
Longerthanu January 29, 2014 at 09:22 PM
How many of the clowns around here neglected to take the train? Train I took yesterday afternoon was far from full. You drive in that kind of weather, you lose. I ditched my car at work, so can most of you.
tynsia allen January 29, 2014 at 09:26 PM
Mother Nature is to blame for all of you who are so simple minded you seek to place blame somewhere. Or if you are a bible thumper, blame your God...
Sophist January 29, 2014 at 10:46 PM
Why are the snow chains on the front tires of that APD cruiser? Fail.
Richard G Rhodes January 30, 2014 at 06:47 AM
MSNBC was broad casting 1/2 inches of snowand sleet at 6:30 am on Tuesday morning. The school should have closed or parents shoud have keep their children home. Better safe than sorry. Drivers should keep a large bag of kitty litter in their car during the winter months. Sorry Governor Deal, Mayor Reed, and the DOT, I am not buying the "everyone went home at once" narrative. We all knew the storm was coming, it hit West Georgia hours before it got here and even though there is a huge stockpile of sand at Spaghetti Junction and other places in Metro Atlanta it did not get out. Governor Deal says "Everything is unexpected when you're not paying attention."Governor Deal says "Everything is unexpected when you're not paying attention." Sums up his adminstrartion since he has been elect.
Keith elrod January 30, 2014 at 07:02 AM
I agree with most of what has been said. The one caveat is that many times the weather forecasts have been wrong, wrong, wrong.. Especially when it comes to the bad stuff. I have lierally canceled plans due to the threat of snow, ice, violent storm,etc only to get up to beautiful skies. Then they say oh well it took a different route. Weather predictions does not always seem to be a science. However, in this case we did seem to have pretty specific info, even down to the time it would start snowing. This time they were right on.
Peggy Cline January 30, 2014 at 08:02 AM
The roads should have been treated much earlier and schools should have been cancelled. Then there might be some problems getting home, but not 24 hour commutes and sleeping in cars for some people. Traffic in Atlanta is always bad, but with any kind of bad weather it is horrendous. Atlanta needs an outer perimeter and more mass transportation to the suburbs.
userbronco January 30, 2014 at 08:12 AM
We dont need or want an outer perimeter to make billionaires out of land developers. We don't need Marta trains that cost $45 million per mile to the suburbs We could use a DOT and governor and school officials that are not complete morons Just two weeks ago they cancelled school because of the low temps And a few hours before the sort of predicted storm the DOT was on TV bragging how they learned their lesson in 2011 and now have 11 salt farms 90 spreader trucks and employees on standby prepared to work overtime Yet they DID NOTHING !!!!! Except sit on their stupid lazy butts And it continues to this morning It's been 44 hours since it snowed and 285 is closed in THREE places because of ice. Because the DOT is too incompetent to spread salt in the busiest road in the entire southeast TWO days later !!!
Bill Walker January 30, 2014 at 08:54 AM
In many places scenes were shown on TV where all lanes were blocked by tractor trailers, especially the inside lane where they shouldn't be. Trucks drivers and trucking companies caught blocking the inside lane should be heavily fined for contributing to the gridlock. It is a shame that many drivers of eighteen wheelers think they own the road.
ray jay January 30, 2014 at 09:52 AM
All i know is weather forecasters led most to believe the storm was gonna hit further south with accuweather saying that North Georgia was suppose to get UP to 1 inch so with this said students in macon area were given 2 days offf from school before the first snow flake fell. Who to blame? Certainly not the State and not the schools for going ahead with classes that day at the most schools could habe released kids earlier but considering they go to school at 8 and they made the decision to dismiss kids at 11 thats pretty early.
Linda Thomas January 30, 2014 at 09:53 AM
I feel sorry for the Atlanta mayor taking most of the heat for the interstates (Morning Joe this morning was awful). These conditions happened up into Cherokee county and into Alabama. It really wasn't the 2 inches of snow, it was the ice and the amount of traffic on those roads. Once those accidents started happening or cars/trucks couldn't get up hills, it became a nightmare. If you've ever been in an traffic jam due to an accident on a sunny day, you know it's hard to get that cleared up. And this was happening everywhere. And the longer the cars sat in the traffic the worst the road conditions became. I do feel school superintendents should have closed schools on Tuesday. Beyond that I don't think anyone can control people bailing at the same time. It is obvious we could never evacuate the city with all those cars on the roads - sun or snow. Best answer to that is mass transit into suburbs.
ray jay January 30, 2014 at 09:56 AM
If yall look back forecasters were saying all we might might might get was a trace of snow so hiw can anyone blame our Governor. Goes to show you people are gonna misplace blame and hang the wrong person.
David D January 30, 2014 at 10:30 AM
@ray jay: Where do you live? Sounds like a different metro area than the one I live in. A WARNING means something quite different than a 'watch'. And...an inch of snow in freezing weather easily causes chaos in the metro area. Why are you so defensive about our incompetent Governor? He failed again.
Sharon Schultz January 30, 2014 at 10:33 AM
OK OK..Who is to blame.. the idiots on the roads who thought mother nature would be kind to them.No they did not think. Also why would any Person think travel would be safe. Considering ppl in Georgia have no clue on how to drive in bad weather... PLAN AHEAD PEOPLE. NEXT TIME STAY HOME.
Laura January 30, 2014 at 10:42 AM
Sometimes , you just can't make anybody happy. I think to place any blame on the school systems is misdirected. Do I think that school should have been cancelled on Tuesday? Yes, I do. With that being said, people would have been upset at that decision as well. When the decision was made to keep kids home when the temps were so low, I heard a lot of "really, is that necessary?" I have a child in the CCSD and understood that there was a danger sending them that particular day . A bus breaks down and kids are put at risk due to the cold temps. I think the school systems did the best they could under the circumstances. Let's just hope that something was learned from all of this.
Douglas Doeden January 30, 2014 at 11:07 AM
Linda Thomas is correct. The media critics are horrible. No one can drive on ice - period. The Gov and Mayor used their best judgement with advise from many "experts". Blame Mother Nature - she can be a B. No kids were injured - most enjoyed the experience.
Larry Burdge January 30, 2014 at 12:30 PM
Too many "false alarms" from the past about snow coming coupled with the fact that it was 60 degrees the day before didn't help. However, when an official gets a call from the National Weather Service at 3 am Tuesday morning, it's time to act and not wait "to see" if something is going to happen. It was on everyone's phone and tablet radar that it was moving to Atlanta.
userbronco January 31, 2014 at 09:10 AM
So here we are THREE DAYS LATER and I-20 is closed in Douglas county because of ice??? The gov and the morons and tards at DOT are truly incompetent !! This just goes to show how truly useless and worthless govt agency's are I spent 9 hours getting from downtown atl to Marietta I didn't see one single DOT truck plowing or sanding I did see one plow. A privately owned one plowing an apt complex behind Cumberland mall I'm ok with the State not plowing If they refund all the money they spent on the 11 salt farms 90 plows etc
Karen Harris January 31, 2014 at 11:51 AM
This is a HUGE wake up call. It lets us know that we are NOT prepared for a national emergency. Blame is useless so fault is useless to discuss at this point. Who will take the lead in preventing such an event in the future?
userbronco January 31, 2014 at 10:49 PM
Why and how would anyone take the lead in preventing it in the future if it no ones fault? If you think the mayor and the gov did everything perfectly And you think the DOT acted properly what do you want done differently ? The DOT is staffed by incopentent moron tards. Period. End of story . They are too stupid to even read the directions on the brine solution that they spent $11 Million of our tax dollars purchasing It has to be applied and dry before the ice hits How many salt barns did they construct after their 2011 incompetence ? What was the cost ? And why did They sit on their @sses and do nothing until it was tool late????? I spent 9 hours getting from downtown to Marietta In that time I saw exactly one plow. A privately owned one plowing an apt complex behind Cumberland mall I didn't see one single DOT truck. Not one single police car. Nothing And if I had known the southbound side of 75 was empty I would have jumped on and gone north on the south bound side instead of driving up the sidewalks and shoulders of north side , paces ferry , and 41 .


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