Politicians, forecasters and pundits play the Atlanta snow blame game

 
Two high school students walk along a frozen Atlanta highway on January 29, 2014. Atlanta highways were passable only on foot after Tuesday's winter storm

While President Barack Obama's State of the Union address was sucking most of the oxygen out of national press coverage on Tuesday night, the city of Atlanta was suffering under a massive winter storm.

Well, "massive" may seem like a bit of an overstatement to those who live in northern climes, but 2in (5cm) of snow effectively shut the city down, stranding many motorists in their cars, shoppers in stores and children in schools.

The storm has set off a blizzard (sorry) of criticism, as politicians and pundits look to assign blame.

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This was poor planning on the mayor's part and the governor's part, pure and simple”

End Quote Al Roker NBC's Today show

First and foremost among the targets are Georgia's Republican Governor Nathan Deal and Atlanta's Democratic Mayor Kasim Reed, who have been criticised for poorly co-ordinating school, government and private-sector preparations.

In the morning, Mr Reed had tweeted that his city was "ready for the snow". And in an unfortunate (for them) irony, he and Mr Deal were attending a luncheon where Mr Reed was presented with a "Georgian of the Year" award as the first flakes began to fall.

"The people whom we pay to be prepared were not prepared," writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jay Bookman. "It was going to be bad, but it didn't have to be this bad."

Mr Deal, for his part, blamed faulty weather forecasts from national meteorologists, calling the storm "unexpected".

The governor said that as of Tuesday at 10:00 "it was still in most of the forecasts anticipated that the city of Atlanta would only have a mild dusting or a very small accumulation, if any. And that the majority of the effects of the storm would be south of here. Preparations were made for those predictions."

"Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, and Wrong!" writes American Meteorological Society President J Marshall Shepherd. He notes that warnings of an impending winter storm were issued by meteorologists as early as the day before.

"This was poor planning on the mayor's part and the governor's part, pure and simple," said celebrity weatherman Al Roker on NBC's Today show. "They were warned about it. They should have been prepared for it, and people are still suffering." (And when you've lost Al Roker, you've lost the nation.)

The Atlantic's Conor Sen writes that regional government infighting is the real culprit.

"The issue is that you have three layers of government - city, county, state - and none of them really trust the other," he writes.

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This snowstorm underscores the horrible history of suburban sprawl in the United States and the bad political decisions that drive it”

End Quote Rebecca Burns Atlanta Magazine

This is just another example of government incompetence, writes syndicated columnist Matt Towery: "The lesson learned from this episode, which will likely cost a fortune in insurance claims, out-of-pocket expenses and costs for government efforts at responding, is that we should never fully rely on government to solve all of our problems."

The Nation's John Nichols counters that the conservative drive to cut government budgets has put politicians in a difficult situation.

"Those officials are operating with an austerity mindset in which their biggest fear is not chaos but accusations that they might expend dollars that do not need to be spent - or that the officials are somehow failing to make the service of big business their highest priority," he writes.

Others are pointing to poor infrastructure and city planning as the real reason behind Tuesday night's debacle.

"It's simple traffic engineering, and we saw it in Atlanta today," writes the Journal-Constitution's Kyle Wingfield.

"This snowstorm underscores the horrible history of suburban sprawl in the United States and the bad political decisions that drive it," writes Rebecca Burns, deputy editor of Atlanta Magazine, in Politico. "It tells us something not just about what's wrong with one city in America today but what can happen when disaster strikes many places across the country."

If that's the case, the thought should send a chill down the spine of even the most winter-hardened among us.

 

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    Comment number 7.

    Winter storms are hard to predict in this area. The forecasts on this storm were anything but straight forward. On Monday, the storm was predicted to be here on Wednesday AM. This changed throughout Monday. By Tues morning, they were predicting PM storm.
    The bulk of the storm was predicted south of the city. It hit north.
    Everything turned into ice by 2....too late.

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    Comment number 6.

    How can a mayor, who probably has no experience with icy conditions even expect to be prepared for this when the thought has never crossed his mind. Or even the minds of anyone else for that matter. I am certain that with economic conditions being what they are, the probability of poorly treaded tires is high. If another snow storm were to hit that area, the locals would be truly terrified.

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    Comment number 5.

    Agree with what someone else wrote, it's not the snow, it's the ice. Freeze-thaw cycles are way worse. That's why usually in Canada in the depths of winter, the roads aren't particularly bad outside of storms. We had a warm spell in Calgary and this week it's -15 again, and guess what, the roads are terrible, black ice everywhere, lots of crashes.

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    Comment number 4.

    I live in the metro Atlanta area and I'd like to clear up some confusion. The metro area has about 6 million people with only about 1 million living in the city. Each city or county is responsible for its own area, but the state is responsible for the highways. Most of the fault belongs to the state.

    With so many local governments, the metro area is a mess. It should be organized like NYC.

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    Comment number 3.

    Snow is rare there, but Atlanta's automobile lifestyle catastrophe churns relentlessly every day. The legacy of racism and conservative hubris manifests as disinvestment in public transit. A Southern middle class clutches steering wheels and endures the daily traffic disaster rather than lower themselves to riding a bus or train. The "snow storm" highlights the fragility of this broken system.

 

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