I’m blogging today from the warmth and comfort of my home, something I did not think would be possible at this time yesterday (Wednesday, January 29th) morning. I left my home around 7am Tuesday and didn’t make it back until around 1pm Wednesday.
Let me first state that yes, I know, Atlanta looks like wimps. We also look like incompetent idiots compared to our neighbors to the North. I have lived in Rapid City, South Dakota and Spokane, Washington. I know snow. I’ve driven in snow, on ice, during blizzard conditions. This is so totally not the same thing.
As a city (nay state) we are ill prepared for inclement weather. We get accumulation and meaningful winter weather about once or twice a decade. We don’t have hundreds of plows and salt trucks and stockpiles of salt and sand. Cold, here in ATL, is temps of 20 to 40. It’s currently 7. Seven entire degrees. So, these conditions are unusual.
My experience wasn’t traumatic, really; even so I keep tearing up when I think about what has transpired in the last two days.
We should have never been at work. We knew it was going to snow. We did receive weather warnings, however many times it’s like the Boy that Cried Wolf. Atlanta shuts down at the HINT of snow, and then snow doesn’t come and we laugh and point fingers and jokey joke about it. So when they said we’d get snow in Metro Atlanta, I scoffed. “It’s not gonna snow in city limits,” I said to our Information Officer. “Maybe in the mountains but we won’t see anything here but flurries.”
I……..was so wrong.
I heard it was snowing up north (where it wasn’t supposed to be that bad) around 10am. Flurries hit Buckhead (city center, financial district) around 11.I talked with a couple of other people and it was decided we should try to be gone by 1:00 because (we had finally paid attention to the forecast) it was supposed to be FULL ON SNOWING by 3PM.
It was POUNDING us by noon.
Insert PANIC. Phones started ringing. “What? They’re letting kids out? We should go too!Everyone needs to be home so everyone get everyone home RIGHT STAT NOW!” Schools (that should have been closed, they all got weather warnings and I was surprised to see kids get on buses Tuesday morning) dismissed earlier than planned. Parents left work to pick up kids or meet them at home. Government closed around noon so employees could go home. Businesses released employees due to weather.
AT THE SAME DAMN TIME.
I was waiting for my boss to release us. I would have beat much of the rush if I’d have left earlier. I didn’t leave the office until 12:45. I didn’t get out of the parking lot at work until 2:30– Piedmont was backed up due to Lenox backing up due to 400 backing up. Roswell was backed up because 285 was a parking lot. I usually take the back roads to work… one thing I really take for granted is the fact that Atlanta has a lot of hills. Even gradual hills, iced over, are a challenge. I took my usual route and there were a lot of cars spinning out, sliding around. I got to Northside where it leads to Akers Mill then Powers Ferry but it was backed up for over a mile so I took the other way, Mt Paran to US41…. where I met a wall of cars, as far as the eye can see.
And even then I thought… well this traffic will break at some point and I’ll head home. I had yet to turn on a newstalk program or check a traffic or weather report.
We crept along for about four hours. Absolute bumper to bumper, going nowhere very slowly. For HOURS. It normally takes me 30-45 mins to get home. It was nearing sunset and I was still a good 25 minutes from home.
Temps dropped to 23. The sun set. Snow and sleet turned to ice.
Then I made a stupid move. The dummy that I am turned on my navigation app. It told me that I could get home more quickly if I went another direction, so I turned off of US 41 (Cobb Parkway) onto Akers Mill to Interstate North parkway. What did I forget about?
FORGOT ABOUT THE STUPID HILLS!!!!
In between listening to music and audiobooks and cursing, I was texting with coworkers. I asked our Controller if she’d made it home yet around 4:00. “Hell no!” She said. “It’s been gridlock for hours!”
Hmph, I thought. Interesting. Clueless.
I sat on the road for hours, blocked by cars and trucks coming off of 285 and trying to climb Interstate Pkwy North and spinning out. The hill was pure ice and with nothing to give traction, people were just spinning their wheels. Then I tried to make the hill over by the Weather Channel headquarters and I got stuck, wheels spinning and me cursing. It took four guys to push me to a parking lot, where I drove through to another entrance and gunned it back onto the road.
I tried to turn onto Windy Ridge parkway to get back to US41. After watching people try to slide up the hill for another hour, I turned around and was going to try to get to Powers Ferry, but there’s no way I could make an even steeper hill. What’s with all the gotdang hills, Atlanta? Interstate Parkway North toWindy Hill? Don’t even think about it.
Little did I know, I had reached a bowl. There was no way out of the bowl. Hills on all sides. And with no sand or salt on the hills, no one was making it out of that bowl.
Around 6:45 I tweeted a sad, harsh reality: “I think I’m going to be stranded.”
Until that very moment, I really, seriously thought I was going to make it home. I just had to get past the traffic and then everything would be just fine. To finally give in and realize I was not going to make it home saddened me. I felt like the weather had won.
I was stuck with nowhere to go when happened to see the Marriott sign shining from the road and thanked my lucky stars. I knew they were all booked but at least I could use the bathroom! I’d been in the car since 12:45 and yeah…. had to GO.
It was warm and bright and there were a LOT of people hanging out in the lobby. Everyone looked cold and tired and pretty spooked. I figured that the hotel was letting people hang out so I decided to stay. The manager informed me that the rooms were booked and the waiting list was about 30 people deep, but, “we’re open, we’re here for you, it’s warm and dry, the restaurant and bar are open. Just hunker down.” Great guy.
I happened to sit next to this guy named Larry who works for some kind of nuclear agency or something down the street and two Korean guys who work for Comcast. My phone had died while I was keeping up with my boss and coworkers on the road but I happened to have a charge cable and they let me charge my phone with their laptop. They offered some chocolates they had and we hung out and talked until the staff started handing out pillows and blankets. They opened a ballroom and let people sack out in there. The hallway was lined with people wrapped up in thick Marriott comforters. I grabbed a pillow and a blanket and made a nest on the bench.
I got calls, texts, tweets and Facebook messages from so many people. I felt loved and cared about and that made all the difference in the world. I was warm and dry, which was a fair sight better than a lot of people. There were kids stranded at schools. @AJCBuzz was still in her car, as were a few of my friends. Two of my coworkers had to abandon their cars and walk home. I was stoic with most people but I did call my mom and cry.
I should also note here that not all hotels and business were so welcoming. I read of a few locations that were less than hospitable. One of my friends whose husband works for a Fortune 500 company stopped into the Spring Hill Suites in Kennesaw, where he was informed that rooms were booked and they’d be happy to call him, should a room open up but that he was NOT welcome to sit in the warm, dry lobby. No sir, please go sit outside in your truck in 10 degree weather, so as to avoid a situation. They turned away several people, which is infuriating to hear. It took several calls from the Area Manager of said LARGE company to persuade them to let him stay in the lobby. They continued to turn away others. Furthermore, the next morning (after being on the road for 12 hours, turned away from them, stuck in his vehicle at a gas station for several hours and then sleeping on a couch in their lobby) he was prohibited from taking part in the complimentary breakfast offered to guests. Breakfast is for paying customers, he was told. Oh. Could he PAY for the breakfast? He was told NO. He left, on foot, in search of food, when there was an entire buffet being served. DESPICABLE.
I slept very little, a couple of hours. Mostly monitoring social media since a few people I knew were spending the night out in the weather. Several people I work with spent 10 to 12 hours on the road. At some point, people just pulled over, abandoned their cars on the freeway and walked to shelter. VIDEO. I spent most of the night watching the endless loop of cars at a complete standstill. Feeling completely helpless.
Around 6am people started stirring, watching the news for updates on when the roads would start clearing. It still looked a mess. I watched the scene and checked the temperature and thought I might be stuck at the Marriott another night… even if the main roads cleared, I had learned that the roads around my house were a terrible mess. Most people had left their cars along the 120Loop and walked.
Around 11am, I saw the first salt and sand trucks on the news. The National Guard was supposedly out. First priority was stranded drivers and kids who had to sleep at school. Most highways (I75 and 285) were closed until the current jam could be cleared.
I had some coffee and breakfast, chatted and made friends with a few people. Put my name on a waiting list for a room that night, after resigning myself that I was not going to get home, not under the power of my own car.
Then Larry got a phone call from his daughter. Her husband has a 4WD Bronco and had been out all night pulling people from ditches, picking people up and giving them rides to where they needed to go– including police officers in cruisers! He was going to come and get Larry and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Larry and I live in the same area so he offered me a ride home along with a gentleman who was on some heavy blood pressure medication. In light of facing another night on the bench at the Marriott, I took him up on the offer.
Lemme tell ya. Wesley is an EXPERT driver, quite skilled because the well traveled roads were patchy with black ice……the outlying and neighborhood roads are pure sheets of ice. He handled them like a champ! We tried to come at my house the easy way, Roswell to Barnes Mill, but Barnes Mill is a long, twisty winding hill. Roswell was Carmageddon (dead cars everywhere) and Barnes Mill was a parking lot and an insurance seminar. Half the stuck cars were crashed into each other. The other half left by people who literally shut off their cars and left them in the middle of the road. Totally blocked.
So we went back to Roswell, around to 120Loop, which was wet and slick, to try to get to me the other way. We were behind a bus finally bringing kids home from schools on Tuesday. All of these roads had hundreds of cars lining the side of the road, abandoned because it just got so bad they couldn’t drive anymore. They got out and walked.
I learned that at some point during the night, they had closed Barnes Mill Rd. The incline is so steep, it became dangerous to even try to go up or down. There is no way I would have made it to my house on Tuesday. I would have been stranded on the side of the road had I not stopped at the Marriott.
Wesley had to drive over someone’s lawn to get around two vehicles stopped in the middle of Barnes Mill. Then we turned onto my street and I was never so happy to see this quaint grouping of townhouses. Home Sweet Home!
I walked in my front door around 1:00 Wednesday afternoon. For a minute, I didn’t know what to do with myself. When I tell you that I cried, when I sat down on my bed? Cried. Big stupid sloppy tears. So happy to be home. I could unclench– I didn’t realize how stressed out I’d been feeling. Absolutely helpless, and looking to those that lead us to help us fix it.
I slept for about six hours, then woke up for four and slept for another eight. Absolute exhaustion coupled with worry for others and anger at the situation and feeling a little dumb on top of everything else really tires a girl out.
We are slowly making our way back to normal. Still under State of Emergency until around noon today (Thursday). Temperature should rise above 40 degrees. This will be good for ice and snow melting, especially along state routes and side streets that don’t get sand or salt. The hills around my house were sheer ice yesterday and dotted with cars.
I do want to issue kudos to a fantastic group you may have heard about: Snowed Out Atlanta. The organizer put the group together to connect people who need help with those who can offer it. I’ve teared up over the last few days at people being willing to help others in a time of need. There is nothing like Southern Hospitality.
The funny thing is everyone kept telling me that this adventure would give me some fodder for my book. Very funny…. but I don’t think I will be writing any snowstorms into Brunch at Ruby’s!
Edit: I got my car back on Thursday afternoon. I was quite nervous to drive it because I didn’t know what the roads looked like. One of my coworkers called because he was in the area and could take me to get my car. We toured the roads I would take on the way back and I was satisfied I could make it. Icy in the shade, bare and dry in the sun. Even so, I was a careful driver on the way home. Parked Camry and there she sat until Friday morning.
On Friday I decided to wait until sunrise to leave, as temps dipped below freezing Thursday night. The drive was, admittedly, a bit harrowing. It was early in the morning and the bridges freeze so easily. Any spots that were in the shade of buildings were pure ice. I kept seeing flashbacks of nothing but a sea of brake lights. When I saw more than three cars stopped for any reason, I started to panic. Nevermind that the lead car was just being a Sunday driver… I think, for awhile, I will always worry that I’ll live through a repeat. I just read an AJC article that tells me I’m not alone in that.
If we can learn anything from this situation, it’s that we should never take these weather reports for granted. That we should always be prepared. And that we should listen to the voices in our heads that say, “Keep your behind at home!”