Weatherman Al Roker and the National Weather Service have hit back at politicians in the South who have pointed the finger at inaccurate forecasts as the reason authorities were so ill-prepared for snowfall and icy conditions which led to chaos on the roads.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said on Tuesday that the storm was ‘unexpected’ and ‘we can’t control Mother Nature’.
However NBC’s Al Roker completely rebuffed this claim on Wednesday, saying: ‘The mayor and the governor got on TV yesterday and said all this wasn’t expected, and that’s not true.’
Roker pointed out that the weather service issued an official warning for Atlanta at 3.38am local time on Tuesday and added: ‘They were warned about it and they should have been prepared for it. It’s a shame. It really is.’
Two inches of snow fell on Tuesday around 1.30pm in the Atlanta area leading to chaos as schools, government workers and private employees took to the roads at the same time. With few highways treated for ice and snow, slippery conditions quickly led to pile-ups and congestion, with many drivers forced to abandoned their cars or sit for hours without heat, food or water.
Some 15,000 schoolchildren across the South either slept on the buses that tried and failed to get them home, or on cots in school gymnasiums. All were back home by Wednesday evening, officials said.
Temperatures dropped to about 15 degrees overnight on Wednesday in the Atlanta area. Although it was supposed to be in the high 30s today, it is forecast to dip below freezing again before rising into the 50s on Friday.
Heeding the warnings, school districts and state and local governments stretching from northwest to coastal Georgia announced that offices and classrooms would remain closed on Thursday.
State transportation crews spent much of Wednesday rescuing stranded drivers and moving disabled and abandoned vehicles that littered the interstates, medians and shoulders with much of the South looking like an icy, haphazard parking lot.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said emergency workers, police and the National Guard would help drivers on Thursday to recover their cars and would provide them with fuel if necessary. Crews planned to use four-wheel-drive vehicles to take motorists to cars they abandoned on Thursday. State officials also said they were creating a database to help motorists locate vehicles that were towed to impound lots.
Governor Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed found themselves on the defensive on Wednesday, acknowledging that storm preparations could have been better. But Deal also blamed federal forecasters, saying he was led to believe it wouldn’t be so bad.
However, the National Weather Service explicitly cautioned on Monday that snow-covered roads ‘will make travel difficult or impossible’. The agency issued a winter storm warning for metro Atlanta early on Tuesday and cautioned against driving.
Its website warned of possible ‘widespread ice accumulations’ across the South as early as Saturday – ‘expanding into the Southeast U.S. Tuesday into Wednesday’. This is what happened across the state and much of the South.
Furthermore, on Monday the weather service issued an advisory at 3.22 pm – almost 24 hours before the storm struck – that there was the potential ‘for 2 inches of snow and up to a half-inch of sleet from Atlanta to Athens’.
Deal, who is up for re-election in November, said warnings could have been posted along highways earlier, but he also fended off criticism.
‘We don’t want to be accused of crying wolf. Because if we had been wrong, y’all would have all been in here saying, ”Do you know how many millions of dollars you cost the economies of the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia by shutting down businesses all over this city and this state?'” Deal told reporters.
However residents – and particularly weary commuters – were not letting them off the hook so easily.