Thursday 30 January 2014

Winter storm in the South

The US is seeing a twenty-year cold snap; the Arctic is experiencing a 44,000 year heat wave

Winter storm slams South, stranding students, snarling traffic
An unusual blanket of snow across the South triggered epic traffic snarls and stranded hundreds of students at their schools Tuesday.

28 January, 2014

Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama struggled to cope with 2 to 4 inches of snow, while Atlanta’s 3 inches led to six-hour commutes -- at least for drivers who didn't abandon their cars on the slippery roads.

"I just decided to get ... out and walk home like the rest of the people. I didn't know where they were going, but now I get it. This is stupid," one driver said in a video posted to Instagram, which turned into a catalog of traffic jams and snowball fights for Georgians unused to snow.

"Georgia was not ready for this, y'all," another user posted in a video capturing a massive traffic jam in downtown Atlanta, at one point focusing on an emergency vehicle that had gotten bogged down in the lines of waiting cars. "The [darn] ambulance can't even get through."

As drivers burned through audio books and made unexpected friends in the endless traffic, Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Georgia.

Marietta City Schools canceled afternoon bus rides for students because of the traffic, leading to worries that many students would have to stay at school overnight.

We definitely might be pulling an all-nighter here,” Thomas Algarin, spokesman for Marietta City Schools, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

[Updated 9:47 p.m.: Late Tuesday, Deal announced he would send state troopers to schools to rescue stranded students, the Associated Press reported. He said state and local officials also would try to rescue people who were marooned along highways, where traffic remained gridlocked late into the night.]

Some parents were infuriated after the district instructed parents mid-afternoon to pick up their children from the school's transportation depot.

"You can simply cannot do this, you are responsible for getting the kids home safe! The incompetency is drooling from this [Facebook] page!" one commenter wrote on the district's announcement on Facebook.

"So you wait until the weather and traffic are the worst to tell parents they have to come get their children," another added. "You also assume everyone has a means to get their children. You should have had early dismissal like EVERYONE else! This is ridiculous!"

Other areas of the South have already or were expected to experience freezing rain, sleet and rain. States from Texas to Virginia braced for an unusual winter freeze expected to last through Thursday.

"What's different about this storm is that it's not a dry cold snap," National Weather Service forecaster Brian Hurley said. "It's a rare occurrence."

Some states, such as Florida, have not experienced this kind of hard freeze since December 2004, Hurley said. "The cold air just gets shallower and shallower as you move southward," he said.

Through Wednesday, the heaviest snowfall accumulation was expected to hit North Carolina and Virginia, leaving up to 12 inches of snow in some areas.
South Carolina, Louisiana and North Carolina issued states of emergency because of the heavy snow and cool temperatures, which Hurley said will be in the upper 20s and lower 30s.

"Now is the time to get a game plan for you and your family," Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal warned residents in a statement.

According to statistics from flight tracking service website, more than 3,200 flights within, into or out of the U.S. had been canceled Tuesday and about 2,700 flights were delayed.

Atlanta's Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport led the way with more than 460 departing flights canceled.

The weather service's Hurley said most of the South will warm up by Friday, with some areas - such as South Carolina and Georgia - reaching the mid-50s.
That was little consolation for Atlanta drivers facing long slogs home on Tuesday.

"OK, so, we left at 3:40 p.m. and we're still stuck in traffic and it's about to be 7 p.m. We may have another three more hours to go," one passenger said in a video posted to Instagram in the middle of a traffic jam. She turned to the driver, a man: "I feel like this is the apocalypse, right babe?"

"Yep," he responded.

"Oh my gosh."

Atlanta Residents Still Seeking Route Home After 24-Hour Gridlock Event From Winter Storm Leon

29 January, 2014

The scene could only be described as apocalyptic – underdressed residents walking miles to get to a warm spot after having to abandon cars at the bottom of icy hills, school buses spinning out with children on board and sirens blaring all over. For the city of Atlanta, it was the latest lesson in how crippling a snowstorm can be for a Southern town.

Winter Storm Leon may not have dumped more than a few inches of snow on the Atlanta area, but 24 hours after the mass exodus began, many major roads are still experiencing gridlock.

In all, there have been more than 1,200 car accidents, 130 injuries and at least one weather-related fatality on Georgia roads, according to the Georgia State Patrol during a press conference Wednesday afternoon. NBC News reported the Georgia National Guard is out on state roads distributing more than 200 cases of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) to stranded motorists. One of the National Guard humvees was able to rescue five special-needs children from a bus stuck in ice and got them home safely.

The traffic delays were a shock to many – one WSB-TV anchor called the situation "bizarre" – because the city's schools and government offices chose not to close early in advance of the storm.

Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed mentioned in a Wednesday afternoon press conference that "a lot of people" were still stranded on metro Atlanta roadways, along with more than 3,000 children who are still staying in their schools.

"People were making a lot of independent decisions," said Reed. "What we will do in the future is try to coordinate that, and make a strong recommendation about how that should flow."

After thousands of commuters flooded the highways at once, many Atlanta motorists spent hours stranded in their cars on the interstate and some even ditched their vehicles on the side of the road and walked.

More than 50 shelters opened across the state to provide shelter for people stranded or gridlocked on the roads. Some Home Depot locations, supermarkets and drug stores also stayed open Tuesday night to provide shelter for stranded motorists. A Facebook group dubbed SnowedOutAtlanta, meant to connect stranded motorists with people willing to put them up for the night, had thousands of members by Tuesday night.

With the high temperature barely expected to rise above 32 degrees in Metro Atlanta on Wednesday, abandoned vehicles and icy roadways will continue to snag travel and make it difficult for stranded motorists to get home.

Reed acknowledged the traffic travails and asked for residents' patience in a news conference on Tuesday.

But one young passenger decided that she just couldn't wait to reach her destination. A baby was born inside a car on gridlocked I-285 highway on Tuesday afternoon as the storm dumped as much as 3 inches of snow in many parts of the city. Her parents were on the way to the hospital but were caught in snarled traffic and couldn't make it fast enough, according to the Sandy Springs Police Department.

A traffic officer and the baby's father helped the mother to deliver on the highway near Riverside Drive after the father flagged down an officer. The mother and baby were fine, and paramedics later took the family to the hospital.

Reed urged people not to go on the roads until conditions improved, which could be days.

"During the day, Atlanta has a population of more than 1 million," said Reed. "So the traffic that folks are sitting in is the typical traffic multiplied by icy roads. The next 24 hours, we really need folks to stay home. So go home, give us some time. We have a much better capability this time to clear your streets.

"Government, schools and business[es] closing at the same time, and releasing everybody out into the city was a mistake that we all were a part of," he added.

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