You can’t help but wonder how something that starts off so serene and beautiful can turn into something so stressful and just plain ugly.

Should we call it “Snow Jam 2011” or just plain “Snow Slam.” Whatever we call it, most of metro Atlanta endured the near-collapse of its transportation system after days of receiving snowstorm forecasts from just about every source—newspapers, radio, TV and online.

Some state officials have admitted to being overwhelmed by the ice and snow catastrophe while others simply urged Georgians to grin and bear it…to be patient.

Simply put, we once again were unprepared and ill equipped to get the job done.

The Georgia Emergency Management Agency, the state’s lead agency on disasters, said it was up to local governments to ask for help and “remarkably” few had. Counties and cities said it was up to the state Department of Transportation to handle the important streets that are state routes.

We are talking about state routes such as Peachtree Road through Brookhaven and Buckhead, Peachtree Industrial through Brookhaven and Chamblee, Piedmont Road through Buckhead, Roswell Road through Buckhead and Sandy Springs, Northside Drive and Northsidie Parkway through Buckhead, Buford Highway through Buckhead and Brookhaven, and the lists goes on.

The state DOT said it had done the best it could with limited resources. The reality, however, is that the Atlanta road grid disintegrated. Even parts of the interstate system were at a compete standstill at times, to say nothing of unplowed, unsalted or sanded and impassable major arterial roadways.

DOT spokeswoman Karlene Barron said the heavy mixture of snow and freezing rain over several days would have overwhelmed any agency.

But officials in the state had several days to prepare. The National Weather Service considers this storm “one of the home runs we’ve hit in terms of forecasting,” said Lans Rothfusz, meteorologist in charge at the service’s Atlanta office. They got the weather right, they got the time right, and they got the information out days ahead. “In the meteorological world, that’s sticking your neck out,” Rothfusz said.

In its planning, Georgia’s DOT reportedly brought in crews and trucks from South Georgia, providing more than 150 trucks in the metro area.

Significant Atlanta roads first covered with snow the night of Jan. 9, turned to ice on Jan. 10 and were not touched by a plow, sand or salt mixture in many areas until mid-day Jan. 11. The ice started melting just in time to re-freeze that night and the following night and….

Major arterials such as Peachtree Road and Buford Highway are usually the responsibility of the state DOT. The state DOT agreed, but said it was doing all it could to keep up with the interstates. So, now who takes the responsibility for the local arteries?

Checking to find out what was going on Brookhaven we checked with who else but Ronnie Mayer, owner of R. Mayer of Atlanta, a tow truck company. He has 16 trucks and said they cost from $60,000 to $80,000 new.

“I parked all of my trucks because you can’t drive on ice,” Mayer said. “It is not worth the $10,000 we could make in two days to have them out there and have people run into them and destroy the trucks or injure my drivers,” he added.

He said his trucks would be back on the road Jan. 14 or 15.

Mayer said the big problem has been the mixture of sand and salt has not been right.

“If the mixture is not right, it does no good at all to melt the ice,” he said. “That’s why he said Doraville had to close down Ga. 141 for five hours [on Jan. 12], because it was a sheet of ice. “

A lot may have been done by the state and various local governments. But next time there needs to be a better plan. People all over the country were pointing their fingers at us as they watched the nightly news of gridlock in metro Atlanta.

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John Schaffner

John Schaffner was founding editor of Reporter Newspapers.