Hey Northerners, This Is Why a Little Snow Shut the South Down
You may have heard that about 2 inches of snow shut down traffic in Atlanta and led to over 1000 cancelled flights.
Schools were closed, children were stuck on school buses, and the National Guard was even called in.
— Alaska Dispatch News (@adndotcom) January 29, 2014
If you're not from the south, this is probably very perplexing news. You might even find it hilarious, although I don't think that makes you an asshole.
I live in New York, but I'm from Tennessee, so I get annoyed by tweets like this:
East Tennessee snow storm. I. ALMOST. DIED. pic.twitter.com/tevVOioBlf
— Aaron Frost (@FrostVermont) January 25, 2014
— Artis Hughes (@Kou1914) January 28, 2014
So here's the complete idiot's guide to understanding why "a little snow" shut down parts of the south.
People from the South can't deal with the cold because they never have to deal with extreme weather. Lucky them, right?
I could point to an obvious example of extreme weather in the South here, like, I don't know ... Hurricane Katrina.
But I think the best example of the extreme weather that the South faces is also the most obvious: heat.
Heat and drought plagued Southern states from 2010 to 2013, causing huge economic losses to farmers and forcing many to go without water for nonessential uses. High temperatures and lack of rain lead to many dangerous and deadly situations, including forest fires.
So if the South can deal with heat waves and tornadoes, why can't it handle a little snow?
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravisBGID) January 28, 2014
Offensive jokes aside, the South can't handle the snow because it's not used to snow.
Modest amounts of snow shut down the South because no one's an expert in how to deal with it. This can create an exponential problem.
Think about it: one driver on a road with a hundred other cars who doesn't know how to drive in the snow might inch along really slowly or even stop, slowing down traffic - or even barrel along as usual and cause a wreck. And if this is what 80 cars out of 100 on the road are doing ... or 800 out of 1000 ... or 80,000 out of 100,000 ... the entire highway will just shut down.
That's basically what happened in Southern cities like Atlanta.
It's just a little snow. Why didn't they just plow the roads?
Well, why doesn't New York have as many tornado shelters as Texas?
Lets be real, the south had all year to buy one snow plow & a truckload of salt. Now yall acting like you're gonna die for one inch.
— King Darrell (@OriginalKingD) January 29, 2014
I cant get over the fact that the news has to actually explain what a snow plow does... Only in the south ????????
— Sam Dale (@samd_415) January 27, 2014
If multiple tornadoes suddenly hit the Big Apple, people wouldn't have the tools to deal with them. Same thing going on here.
Yo smug northerners! We don't have a fleet of salt trucks. Cars aren't all front-wheel-drive. IT NEVER SNOWS HERE. So shut it, please!
— Lauren Morrill (@LaurenEMorrill) January 29, 2014
In the South, we just don't have fleets of snow plows and salt trucks ready to go.
For Boston or New York, it makes much more sense to spend money on snow plows and winter weather supplies than on, say, tornado shelters.
Boston compared to Atlanta in snow...this says a lot pic.twitter.com/NWkQ3gelou
— Eduardo Rodriguez (@EduardoElTiempo) January 30, 2014
City and state governments don't have unlimited resources and can't prepare for every conceivable weather event. They prepare for the ones that are most likely.
And down South, snow just isn't likely. Particularly in cities like Birmingham, where it hasn't snowed in 21 of the last 30 years and where the budget is already severely stretched, spending money on snow equipment makes no sense.
PSA to all people from places where it typically snows IT NEVER DOES HERE SO NO ONE IS PREPARED TO HANDLE IT SO WE FREAK OUT Stop being rude
— Camilla Grier (@camillagrier) January 28, 2014
If we shut down school every time it snowed in the North, no one would ever finish the school year on time.
In fact, states differ widely on how much snow on average it takes to cancel school. Just check out this informative map made by Reddit user atrubetskoy:
Because snow is so rare, shutting down for any snow or just the prediction of snow generally only happens one to three times a year in the South at most.
Up north, 6 feet of snow: School in the morning. -- Down south, possibility of snow: School closed, all the bread gone in the grocery store.
— LeeleeSpeaks (@uthebombdotcom) January 28, 2014
Shutting down in those conditions makes sense, because of the dangers snow conditions can pose in areas lacking the infrastructure and the experience to deal with them.
All you northern people making fun of the south for an inch of snow.. you are the folks that can't handle tropical storms
— Mike Zaccardi, CMT (@MikeZaccardi) January 29, 2014
Places in the North tend to close schools and government offices and even roads when lots of snow falls quickly. In the South, a couple of inches is the equivalent of a blizzard up North. Get it?
"The south can't handle snow!" And the north can't handle hurricanes, I mean "superstorms"...
— Dillon Ramsey (@dpramsey1) January 29, 2014
If the snow is so difficult to deal with, why didn't people in states like Alabama and Georgia just stay home and off the roads?
Snow in Alabama: 17-car pile up in Riverchase near Hoover, Ala. south of Birmingham. pic.twitter.com/FDJCDqNBlw
— Jeff Poor (@jeff_poor) January 28, 2014
Well, many people didn't realize that there would be anything more than a "light dusting" of snow in, for example, Birmingham, Alabama, due to weather reports. So people went to school and work as normal. And when the snow did hit, people tried to get home before it got worse.
— bexx (@BexxOnTheeBeach) January 30, 2014
They all hit the slippery, icy roads at once. Cue chaos.
I lived it. Progression of the bad traffic in Atlanta due to the snow. pic.twitter.com/7nbUkqhzeO
— gondeee (@gondeee) January 28, 2014
Cars sled off streets and into rivers.
— Jamie Sandford (@jsandford) January 28, 2014
Pregnant women, young children, and people with conditions like diabetes were stuck in the snow without help.
My uncle has been stuck on the road for more than 10 hours & away from his family my aunt is pregnant as can be and had to walk to get food
— NothinOrdinary??? (@iDefine_Real103) January 29, 2014
Five people being killed and 23 injured from traveling in unexpected snowy conditions.
Eventually some schools decided to just keep the children there overnight.
AM Update:About 4K children still in schools. All schools are warm, have food and great teachers & principals caring for children. #alwx
— Gov. Robert Bentley (@GovernorBentley) January 29, 2014
No one saw this coming.
So are you saying that state governments in the South shouldn't get any blame for how the snow storm was handled?
Officials are definitely coming under fire, especially Nathan Deal, the governor of Georgia, who is taking responsibility for the lack of preparation.
Good to see GEMA and Governor Nathan Deal finally taking accountability for what happened. Most of what happened is on them.
— Krissy Brierre-Davis (@krissybri) January 30, 2014
The response to the snow also did reveal some substantial problems that Atlanta needs to fix.
Unlike Boston or New York, Atlanta, though a large urban city, does not have an extensive public transportation system. Even without snow, there's usually terrible traffic. And a proposed transportation tax that might have lessened that traffic recently failed.
A lack of cooperation between city, county, and state levels in Georgia makes it difficult for Atlanta to improve its transit system.
Plus, Atlanta doesn't have an executive who can really call all the shots in the city like the mayor of New York can.
This is because the Atlanta metro area is actually made up of a number of different cities, all with different leaders. And even the mayor of the city of Atlanta doesn't have the power to shut down schools -- the Atlanta Public School system is responsible for that.
Even though lack of resources played a part in the response to the snow, the government of Atlanta could have planned better:
So you see, there are good reasons why a relatively small snow storm shut down areas of the South. But the snow revealed real weaknesses as well--the kinds of weaknesses that any state, North or South, experiencing a crisis should take a close look at to avoid such problems in the future.
Images used under Creative Commons licensing.