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 Northside Parkway through Buckhead, Buford Highway through Buckhead and Brookhaven … 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 complete 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.

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.

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?

Our new governor, Nathan Deal, has responded to that question. He has put coordination of all snowstorm efforts, state and local, squarely in the hands of GEMA’s top dog.

Dist. 7 City Councilman Howard Shook said in a recently published piece, “Like other Southern cities Atlanta does not have the dedicated heavy ice/snow equipment Northern cities must possess. To close the gap, the administration hired private contractors, which I would prefer doing rather than invest tens of millions in equipment that may only be called into action twice in 30 years. We should consider purchasing detachable plows that can be quickly adapted to our existing fleet. We need to work more closely with GDOT, and not wait for them if they are overwhelmed.”

Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell, who was held captive in his home for a few days by an icy driveway and Peachtree Road, said maybe the coalition should consider some sort of financial support to ensure Buckhead’s main roads can be made passable more quickly. He wasn’t suggesting the coalition buy a snow plow, but maybe it should have an emergency fund available to help.

But I thought Dist. 8 City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean had a few interesting observations.

First, she pointed out that when the road graders and snow plows finally did work on clearing the roads, they tore up the reflectors imbedded in the payment, which now have to be replaced.

She said it was almost a full week after the snow fell that roads and sidewalks in her district remained sheets of ice. People were stranded in their homes.

But her best observation was that the thing that Buckhead cherishes most—its tree cover, became its worst enemy in the aftermath of the storm.

“Our trees provide so much shade,” she said, “the sun could not melt the ice.”

She was quick to add, however, “I am absolutely not advocating cutting down the trees.”

I think we all just hope we will be better prepared next time around and enjoy the beauty of the moment without the stress.

John Schaffner

John Schaffner was founding editor of Reporter Newspapers.