By CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — Just two weeks ago, Atlanta became a national punch line when a few inches of snow crippled the city. Comedians said the gridlocked highways looked more like a zombie apocalypse than the South's bustling business hub.
On Monday, officials were quick to act as the winter weather zeroed in, determined not be the butt of jokes like the Saturday Night Live parody that referred to the "devil's dandruff" and "Yankee's slush." Before a single drop of freezing rain or snow fell, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal had declared a state of emergency for nearly a third of the state, schools canceled classes and workers were staying home.
Still, people were skeptical the state would be better prepared this time.
"I'm not counting on it. I've been in Georgia on and off for 20 years. It's usually the same scenario, not enough preparations and not enough equipment," said Terri Herod, who bought a large bag of sand and a shovel at a Home Depot. She said her sister told her to also buy kitty litter in case her car gets stuck on an ice patch.
The memories of the last storm were too fresh for some. Late last month, students were trapped on buses or at schools and thousands of cars were abandoned along highways as short commutes turned into odysseys. One woman gave birth on a jammed interstate. In the chaos, though, there were stories of Southern hospitality — people opening up homes and businesses to help the stranded. Officials reported one accident-related death.
This storm could be worse this time. A one-two punch of winter weather was expected for Atlanta and northern Georgia. Rain and snow were forecast Tuesday, followed by sleet and freezing rain Wednesday. Downed power lines and icy roads were a major worry. Salt trucks, snow plows were ready to roll and the National Guard has 1,400 four-wheeled drive vehicles to help anyone stranded.
Other parts of the South were expected to get hit as well. Alabama, which saw stranded vehicles and had 10,000 students spend the night in schools during the January storm, was likely to get a wintry mix of precipitation. Parts of Mississippi could see 3 inches of snow, and a blast of snow over a wide section of Kentucky slickened roads and closed several school districts. South Carolina, which hasn't seen a major ice storm in nearly a decade, could get a quarter to three-quarters of an inch of ice.
Atlanta has a long and painful history of being ill-equipped to deal with snowy weather and people were not taking any chances, even though officials promised the response would be different this time.
"We're not looking back, we're looking forward," Deal said. "The next three days are going to be challenging. We want to make sure we are as prepared as possible."
Schools announced early that they would close Tuesday, and tractor-trailer drivers were handed fliers about the weather and a law requiring chains on tires. City and state government were to stay open Tuesday, but the governor called for a liberal-leave policy, meaning if workers didn't want to come in they didn't have to. More than 500 Delta flights with Atlanta connections on Tuesday had been canceled, and passengers traveling through several Southeastern states between Tuesday and Thursday were offered a chance to make free one-time changes to their itineraries.
People around Atlanta planned to stay off the roads, which couldn't be treated last time because there were too many cars stuck on them.
"Basically, everyone from the office is going to be working from home" on Tuesday, Dakota Herrera said as he left a downtown car park on his way to the office Monday.
Deal was doing many things differently. He opened an emergency operations center and held two news conferences before the storm. When the Jan. 28 storm hit, Deal was at an awards luncheon with Mayor Kasim Reed, who was named a magazine's 2014 "Georgian of the Year."