MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — After two inches of snow fell in parts of Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana on Tuesday, traffic in some places came to a standstill for 24 hours. Thousands of children had to spend the night at school and rescue crews brought food and water to stranded drivers.
“I guess I’m blaming it on a lack of equipment for them, but we’re probably just tougher,” said native Minnesotan Alec Bronson while checking out the ice sculptures at the St. Paul Winter Carnival.
Many from Minnesota, a state that’s dealt with feet of snow this year, wondered: How can such little snow cause such a big mess?
“The severity is rated by how much traffic is affected,” said MnDOT’s Kevin Gutknecht. “If you don’t have trouble getting around, you don’t think of it as a severe snow storm.” He pointed to a 1991 Minnesota snowstorm that dropped three feet of snow. “That paralyzed us for a while,” he said.
The city of Atlanta has 40 snow plows, which is half of the 80 pieces of snow removal equipment St. Paul sends out every storm. Even the city of Woodbury uses 19 plows and the city of Plymouth operates 53.
“It’s all about preparedness and what level the public demands and is willing to fund and pay for,” said Mike Kennedy, the director of snow operations for Minneapolis. “Up to 10-15 inches, we’ll do pretty well, but anything over that, we’re going to be overwhelmed, too.”
WCCO-TV reporter Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield grew up outside of Atlanta and hadn’t seen a snow plow until she moved to Minnesota last year. She said she can only remember two storms of that size – one in 7th grade and the other four years ago.
“It’s just something different that’s happening, like if a hurricane happened here. People would say, What in the world? We’re shocked by it, we’re startled, we’re tense, we’re not comfortable,” she said.
Littlefield added that even the threat of sleet or snow would usually keep everyone home.
But on Tuesday many people went to work and schools were open in Georgia. Atlanta officials announced early Tuesday afternoon that people should head home in a city that’s known for its normally terrible traffic.
“We made a mistake by not staggering when people should leave,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal defended his state’s actions on Wednesday when he said, “Even with the best of forecasting I don’t think anyone could have totally predicted that this was going to have the magnitude within the short period of time which it occurred.”
But weather forecasters quickly responded to that sentiment saying they had been forecasting the snowy weather system for five days. NBC’s Al Roker gave a spirited critique on the Today Show Wednesday morning.
“They took a gamble, they didn’t want to pretreat the roads,” Roker said. “I don’t think they wanted to spend the money.”
And as for driving in the snow, Littlefield said she didn’t know how to drive in the snow until she moved to Minnesota. Even so, many Minnesotans would argue that some Minnesotans don’t always drive well in smaller amounts of snow.
According to Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske, there are many more accidents in 1-2 inches of snow compared to 10 inches, because people think they can continue to drive fast.