So without a doubt you’ve seen the reports about the “Snowpocalypse” we had in the southeast. “Two inches,” they keep saying, paralyzed an entire region. They then look smugly down on us poor southern hicks, unable to deal with two simple inches of snow. “We get x inches a day here!”
If only it were that simple.
To understand what happened and why this was such a big deal, you have to understand some things about southern weather and cities in the South (especially Atlanta and Birmingham):
It wasn’t “two inches of snow.” It was two inches of snow on top of 2-3 inches of ice.
It wasn’t the snow that was the problem. It was the thick sheet of ice that formed everywhere that was the real problem. And this is what always happens when it “snows” here: ice forms everywhere. Snow in and of itself isn’t a problem. But ice is a major problem.
We do not have the infrastructure to handle these things because they are very rare here.
A snowfall like this, in a major Southern city, happens about once every 5 years or so. There’s no more reason for Atlanta or Birmingham to have salt trucks or snow plows than there is for New York to have hurricane levees or tornado shelters. That equipment would spend most of its time unused, and would be a waste of money in the first place.
I always tell my northern friends to replace “inches” with “feet” when talking about snow in the south and comparing that to their locales. So imagine a couple of feet of snow falling in a day. That would paralyze any city.
Two inches might as well have been two feet for a city with few, if any, snow plows or salt trucks and no other infrastructure to handle snow and ice removal.
“Atlanta,” as a city, only has a population of about 500,000. The Atlanta Metro area has a population of 6.1 million people. See the disconnect there?
“Atlanta” is actually made up of about a dozen counties and dozens or hundreds of smaller cities and towns. Each of these towns has separate police, fire, and infrastructure to maintain. And not only do these towns not coordinate with one another, they are often outright hostile towards one another. So when a major event like this happens, there’s no one to coordinate things for the entire region.
As a result, everyone let schools out at the same time and everyone got out of work at the same time. When that happened, millions of people were on the roads at the same time. Considering that Atlanta traffic is complete shit on a beautiful clear sunny day, this was not a good thing.
Atlanta is also not flat. The majority of the city is made up of rolling hills, some steeper than others.
Throw in multiple times the amount of normal traffic and a two-inch coating of ice and no infrastructure for ice removal and drivers that have no experience driving in winter weather and geography that is made up of hills and … well … you get exactly what happened. A natural disaster.
And Birmingham is just a smaller Atlanta, with all the same problems. The exact same thing as above applies there.
The big thing is the lack of infrastructure. Our population is not used to handling winter weather, because it is not something we often encounter. Two inches of snow is absolutely enough to paralyze a region that cannot deal with snow.
Hell I had to go get a new heavy coat for skiing this last week because a light coat or sweatshirt is all I need most winters. On the absolute coldest days, when it dips below freezing, I’ll wear both and maybe a hat if it’s really cold. Extreme cold and, really, any snow are just not things we’re used to dealing with here.
So yeah, look, I know it’s easy to make fun of us. Bama fans just taken by themselves give the world a lot of well-warrented comedy. But, on the whole, we’re not dumb. Our cities are just built to handle different types of problems (like hurricanes, tornadoes and lots of rain). Snow is not something we worry about, so when it does happen, it tends to make a just a big mess.