Rugged circumstances can teach worthwhile lessons.
As the second major storm in barely two weeks pounded away at us last week, Georgians, their government and the private sector seemed to have taken January’s bad weather teachings to heart. We’ve got more to learn, but this city and state seem to have been forced onto a better path of storm management.
We changed our behaviors this time around and timing of the latest storm also worked more in our favor. That made all the difference as sleet, ice and snow descended upon us yet again.
In the midst of it all, we were reminded that humankind, even with the best of its technology and machinery, is little match for Nature at its worst. More than 350,000 Georgia customers without electric power Wednesday decisively proved that.
We must nevertheless be ever-diligent in managing what we can control. Thus, we should keep working toward better ways to predict, assess and handle future weather events. Two big storms in less than a month reinforces that Gov. Nathan Deal’s new storm task force should produce solid findings that can be put into action sooner, not later. Shutting down a major city ought to be a last resort and we must keep researching how to minimize future disruptions .
That all said, in the face of last week’s severe storm, the Atlanta metro and Georgia did a lot more things right than was the case in January.
For starters, government officials were out in front of Snow Jam ‘14, Part II. That’s much better than last month, when leaders seemed stuck behind an icy curve as ominous events cascaded around them – and the rest of us.
This time, work began well before the heavens opened up. Command centers came to life in advance of the long-predicted storm. Snowplows and salt trucks took to the streets in a proactive – not reactive – manner. And the Georgia National Guard was called into the mix.
Getting that head start on the uphill fight against sleet, ice and snow was made possible largely by two large, interrelated factors: Georgians themselves and heightened communications measures.
Last week, most people heeded the advice to just stay home that was repeatedly relayed by emergency management officials and the likes of Gov. Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
Staying clear of increasingly treacherous roads was more feasible last week because many school districts decided in advance not to risk holding classes and then having to dismiss early as weather conditions rapidly deteriorated. That prudent move kept school buses off of the streets, as well as concerned parents who would have set off down risky roads to try and pick up kids stranded at snowbound schools.
Many government offices and private businesses also heeded strong urgings to close their doors early. That made for a staggered exodus that did not unduly tax the Atlanta region’s roads, which are prone to gridlock even on warm, sunny days.
All of which made for a strangely quiet Atlanta metro and state last week. The normal sounds of modern life were replaced by a low moan of the wind and the deceptively delicate clink of disruptive sleet tapping against windows.
Millions of Georgians stuck indoors were listening , ears attuned for the snap, crack and thud of overweighted tree limbs thumping to the ground – often taking down electrical power lifelines with them.
As private-sector businesses or cooperatives with an eye on both their infrastructure investment and bottom line, utility companies are expected to be hard at work in times like this. That makes no less impressive the efforts of their on-the-ground workers, laboring in miserable, dangerous conditions to restore a service we all rely on.
A similar sense of responsibility was shown by many other Georgians last week. Unlike those who were caught short Jan. 28, on the roads with less-than-full gas tanks or wearing clothes inadequate for the stinging cold, folks this time behaved differently. Nearly empty store shelves showed that we stocked up early on necessities like batteries, firewood, sand and salt. People, it seems, got the message that, in times like these, we really may end up being our own first responders.
Of course, there were glitches and mishaps. They’re to be expected when weather strength-tests our infrastructure. Many will remember the visual of the sand-spreader truck that slid off an icy road and flipped onto its side. MARTA trains had sporadic trouble climbing iced-over rails on the system’s hills. Yet, even with delays, the trains kept rolling, proving that a properly operated rail transit system can come closest to providing an all-weather mobility option .
And through all of the ice and cold, Atlantans and Georgians held on to hope, as is our way. Our normally moderate climate was out there, somewhere. We knew this storm, too, would pass.
Even so, we should not forget the hard-learned lessons of recent weeks and the need to keep honing Georgia’s storm response skills. We will need them again at some point. Just hopefully not anytime soon.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.