Atlanta winter storm - tree covered in ice.
This morning in Atlanta. A tree covered in ice

Every year, the same thing happens in this city. There is a threat of an Atlanta winter storm – heck, even the threat of a possible hint of a winter storm – and all of a sudden, you can’t get bread, eggs, or milk anywhere. People get in a panic, quite literally. It’s as though the apocalypse is near and everyone thinks it’s gonna last for three days and they all need to stock up on exactly that much food.

It must be quite funny for people in more northern regions to watch. And I get it, I really do. But winter weather in places like Atlanta is not (really) all that funny.

The City of Atlanta has very few snowplows or salt/sand trucks. And there is a good reason for this – you don’t spend tens of millions of dollars on stuff you rarely need. An Atlanta winter storm almost never happens. You just hope that when that out-of-the-ordinary thing does happen, people will be rational, stay at home, and ride it out. But that doesn’t happen. People aren’t rational. They get in their cars and get themselves in accidents.

Atlanta winter storm - Black ice on the road
Black ice, barely visible, but it’s there and very dangerous

Two years ago, Atlanta had one of the worst winter events in its history. The snow started falling in the afternoon, and by late afternoon, the city had come to a standstill. The Atlanta winter storm of 2015 was the worst I’ve seen in the city since I moved here in 1999. It wasn’t the most snowfall accumulation – that was in 2000 – but it was the most dangerous.

Why?

It has to do with a couple of coincidences. First, the snow. It was only a couple of inches – hardly a reason to panic. But that snow was falling on pavement that was just slightly above freezing. As the afternoon wore on, traffic driving over that snow packed it very tightly. The snow obviously began to melt as it hit the pavement, but not completely. As the evening approached, temperatures dipped below freezing. And guess what? All that snow, packed and full of water, began to freeze solid. And no one was prepared for it.

This video was taken just up the street from my house. Cars and trucks, on what normally would be a very easy incline, didn’t move:

A video of the disaster that was 2014

People I know, who normally spend 45 minutes getting home in the afternoon, ended up spending the night at grocery stores and Home Depots. Cars were abandoned. People who lived next to Interstate exits were bringing tea, coffee, and snacks to people stranded in their cars. Atlanta came to a standstill.

Of course, the lack of snow clearing equipment wasn’t the biggest problem. Being from Canada, and as many people in the north would know, this type of weather is not an issue. It takes a hell of a lot more than a few inches of snow and some black ice to stop people from living their daily lives in places like Boston or Toronto . It has to be bad.

Atlanta winter storm - Ice on my neighbor's car.
An ice sheet on my neighbor’s car this morning

The big difference between people from Boston and Toronto and people from places like Atlanta is: winter tires. While northerners switch from their summer tires to winter tires (some even adding metal studs), people in the South trod along on summer tires all year long. I don’t even know if tire shops sell winter tires or all-seasons here. So when there’s an  Atlanta winter storm, and snow or ice accumulates, our cars and trucks are practically useless.

It’s easy to laugh though. It must be hilarious watching us down here when there’s barely an inch of snow, struggling to do just about anything, while you’re sitting in Maine with 3 feet of the stuff and enjoying every minute of it. The phrase “Atlanta winter storm” must make you chuckle when you hear it. I mean, there’s nothing – just a few flakes!

A snowflake seen anywhere can bring us to a standstill - Dave Granlund cartoon
A snowflake seen anywhere can bring us to a standstill – Dave Granlund cartoon

No worries. We get it. We laugh at y’all up there, too, when the temperatures go into the heat wave zone. While you’re struggling to stay hydrated and to avoid sunstroke, we’re monitoring our stock in companies that sell fans.

Atlanta winter storm - Sidney Marcus Blvd, empty
Sidney Marcus Blvd. Usually packed, now empty

It’s definitely funny to watch us struggle through an Atlanta winter storm event. But there are completely legitimate reasons that southerners freak out when there’s a chance of snow. They are completely unprepared for it.

And they rarely have reason to prepare, so the cost benefit of doing so doesn’t make economic sense. It would be foolish for someone in Georgia to spend several hundred dollars on four snow tires that they’ll need once a year, if that. And it makes even less economic sense for Georgia to spend millions on snow clearing equipment for the same reason.

So we just take it as it comes and freak out about it once every couple of years, while you laugh at us.

Atlanta winter storm - BeltLine trail covered in snow and ice
BeltLine trail covered in snow and ice

That’s OK though.

Summer is coming.

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Michael is originally from Canada but now resides in Atlanta, GA with his husband, Halef, who also writes here. He is a Couchsurfing expert and has traveled to over 40 countries to date. Currently saving all his money for a Round the World adventure.


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