February 4, 2014

Mark Millican: Playing the blame game

Thousands of cars abandoned on the interstates.

Hundreds of students spending the night in their schools.

Thousands more commuters gripping their steering wheels up to a dozen hours trying to get home.

And all because of around two inches of snow.

Technically known as Winter Storm Leon, the massive snow and ice system that smacked the South in a large swath on Tuesday, Jan. 28, also received other monikers — Gridlockageddon, Snow Jam, Snow Fallout — and several that can’t be mentioned in a family newspaper.

Bottom line? It messed up a bunch of people’s life rhythms for a day or two or three, scared a whole lot of parents half to death, and generally shut down hundreds of towns and villages and businesses in Georgia for awhile.

About the only surety to come out of the storm was that someone would have to take the blame — especially in metro Atlanta — for all these lives being disrupted by Mother Nature. Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed were on the front burner, but some shameless reporters were willing to spread the blame around.

Don’t get me wrong. There was a lot of good, factual reporting that was on TV and radio that probably helped people make good decisions to stay off the roads if they weren’t driving yet. But I just can’t get out of my mind the TV reporter who stood on a snow-covered bridge in Atlanta, announced the city said they would treat bridges, then accusingly reported they hadn’t gotten to this bridge yet in several hours.

Let’s see, Hot Lanta is over 130 square miles. Wonder how many bridges there are within that area? And a reporter is mad because her editors told her to stand by that bridge in the cold until she saw something happen.

And what of a national TV weatherman and a late-night comedian who blamed the governor. Exactly how many years combined have they spent in any type of governance or lived in the South?

Then there’s the election year angle. It was pile-on time for other candidates as they brought up all the reasons why Atlanta and the entire state of Georgia was not prepared. Gov. Deal even issued an apology, though I doubt that would’ve happened this year unless his aides were saying, in effect, “Guv, we’ve got to do something! The media and our opponents are hammering us! Don’t forget it’s an early primary this year in May — that’s only a couple of months from now.”

Patrick Core, chief meteorologist with WDEF News 12 in Chattanooga, told me in a phone interview the big story was simply the temperature.

“Snow at 20 degrees and snow at 32 degrees is a lot different,” he pointed out, noting every flake that fell stuck on a road surface instead of melting — like it normally does in the South. He also said weather “models” didn’t pan out exactly as prognosticated, which is why they call it weather prediction.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want an autocrat governor who tells school systems when not to run buses, and lets businesses and factories know when they can open and call in employees. We may as well get used to the fact that every three or four years we’re going to get hit with a system that does the unpredictable — like in Dalton and Whitfield County not so long ago when buses started sliding all over the place and kids got home way late.

Let’s flip the coin, shall we? What if school systems had called off school and bosses told their employees beforehand to stay home and not come in — and then it didn’t snow? You know as well as I there would have been holy hell to pay from those who had to stay home from work and/or tend to children out of school and missed a day’s pay.

Bottom line: Weather predictions are not always right, and Southerners don’t know what to do or how to act when it gets well below freezing and then starts to snow. Shouldn’t we instead be thanking God there was only one traffic fatality, that first responders worked around the clock to try and ensure our safety, that schoolteachers and administrators kept stranded children safe, and that churches and businesses and others opened their doors as overnight shelters for people they didn’t even know?

Long-term predictions — there’s that word again — are that another arctic front may hit us again by mid-February. Who’ll get the blame next time?

Mark Millican is a former Daily Citizen staff writer and is editor of the Times-Courier in Ellijay.

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