Posted: 7:01 pm Tuesday, January 28th, 2014
By Greg Bluestein
State and local government leaders said they learned valuable lessons about how to respond to wintry weather after the 2011 ice storm paralyzed much of Georgia.
Over the coming days, Gov. Nathan Deal and others will face pressure from skeptical metro Atlanta residents wondering how a few inches of snow brought the city to its knees once again.
The government reaction to the day’s disastrous weather poses a test for state and local leadership. Deal went before the cameras at the statehouse late Tuesday to soothe anxious residents on edge over the snowstorm that embarrassed their city.
Tales of commutes stretching for hours, of students trapped in schools, and of interstates turned to parking lots prompt questions about the decision to keep classrooms and government agencies open and the near simultaneous release of thousands of students and office workers on streets yet to be treated by overwhelmed crews.
An ever-evolving forecast didn’t help school administrators and executives charged with making the call to keep their doors open. And Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has already acknowledged a miscue with the release.
“Government, schools and business[es] closing at the same time, and releasing everybody out into the city was a mistake,” he told reporters.
Transportation officials are scrambling, but salt trucks are stuck in the same traffic that’s seized the rest of the city. They spent much of Tuesday trying to treat roads already crammed with drivers.
Deal’s reaction will also be under the microscope. His office sent out an emergency declaration through a tweet by his spokesman at 5:20 p.m., hours into the mess.
In a statement sent about an hour later, Deal begged motorists to get to a “warm stopping point,” on roads which by then were clogged with gridlocked traffic.
We know Deal and Reed were in close consultation on Tuesday. The governor introduced the mayor at a Georgia Trend luncheon before events back at the statehouse were canceled.
Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said his boss was involved in the storm response every step of the way, and signed three executive orders marshaling response between Monday night and Tuesday. He said the governor consulted with public safety and transportation leaders before declaring the disaster, following one of the recommendations from the 2011 disaster.
“There’s no magic wand,” he said. “We are hoping that the crews can work through the night” to clear the roads.
For Deal, the storm presents the biggest weather disaster since his inauguration in that 2011 mess. And for Reed, it presents his first major challenge of a second term.
Expect the two leaders’ responses to come under further scrutiny as the full magnitude of the storm is revealed.
About the Author
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He joined the newspaper in June 2012 after spending seven years with the Atlanta bureau of The Associated Press. He also contributes to the AJC's Political Insider blog. Bluestein has traveled to Haiti with President Jimmy Carter, journeyed to Panama with Gov. Nathan Deal and tracked down a suspected Ponzi schemer in suburban Kansas. He spent weeks in Louisiana covering the Gulf Oil Spill, became an unwitting expert on capital punishment after witnessing almost a dozen executions in Georgia's death chamber and was part of award-winning teams that descended upon the biggest breaking news events in the Southeast. Bluestein has covered a range of beats, including environment, legal affairs and economic development. He's now the AJC's political writer, charged with covering the intricacies of Georgia's lively government on the newspaper's front pages and in the Political Insider blog. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two daughters.