Between 3 and 4 inches left motorists stranded, school systems struggling to get children safely home and roads an icy mess. But, county officials say, it could have been worse.
“As bad as it is here, if you look at us compared to other counties around us, we’re not in bad shape at all when you’re talking about four and five hundred kids have to stay at the schools overnight or you still see where people are completely shut down, trapped in their cars nowhere to go, sleeping in grocery store floors and those sorts of things. We’re not faring that [bad],” Bartow County Fire Department Chief Craig Millsap said.
A mid-day tour of portions of Bartow County revealed improving roadways, courtesy of road crews and sunshine. Main thoroughfares received attention first. Secondary streets and back roads were a different story. Roads remained covered with snow and ice.
Millsap said it could be Friday before the most rural and shaded areas saw visible melting.
The shifting line of precipitation packed more of a punch than officials were anticipating.
“We knew something was coming. Everything for the forecast for the past week ... was showing the Atlanta, South Cobb, Atlanta, down to Macon — everything was really going to be getting those areas,” Millsap said of a 9 a.m. conference with the National Weather Service. “It was showing here we were out of it for the most part. We might get a light dusting. ... But we were still a big question mark.
“The unfortunate thing is, that line that was Cobb County jumped above both us and Gordon County. It shifted within that course of an hour to an hour and a half. Unfortunately the damage was already done. It was already here and that’s how we ended up in the situation we were [in].”
Vehicles remained abandoned along the shoulder of county roadways, many parked at the entrance to subdivisions and created havoc for emergency response.
“It’s kind of a bad situation in that the places that need help, we can’t even get in to do the help,” Millsap said.
The Georgia Department of Transportation on Wednesday said the agency worked ahead of the storm to prevent roadways from freezing.
“Much of our work before this storm was preventive, so in some areas where we expected it to be heavily impacted, we pre-treated these areas so the snow wouldn’t stick and it wouldn’t freeze easily. When the storm started, we had all our personnel working in 12-hour shifts to remove the snow and keep the roadways, the highways, open and safe for the traveling public,” said GDOT District 6 Communications Officer Mohamed Arafa. “... Bartow County received an average of 3 to 4 inches of heavy, wet, snow. Our guys worked all night ... to tackle the falling snow, but the temperature also dipped below freezing. We focused on maintaining two open lanes on [Interstate 75] because our first priority was to keep the interstate open; second priority was the highest traffic volume on the state route [20 and 140].”
Millsap said people trying to leave the county caused many of the roadway issues.
“A lot of our stuff ended up being on routes people trying to get out of Bartow to go home, down on 293 trying to get to the interstate or you know Old Alabama, those places, trying to get out of Bartow, and on those, we ran into a lot of issues,” he said.
The Georgia State Patrol reported 83 crashes in Bartow with seven injuries between 10 a.m. Tuesday and 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Some questioned why the county did not request assistance from the Georgia National Guard.
“The National Guard has tried to contact us and offer their services on things but there’s only so much they can offer. There’s not a lot of ways we’ve seen that we would be able to utilize them,” Millsap said, “and also that’s a state resource where we’d have to go through the state resource center in order to get [assistance]. We compete for that resource just like any other state resource right now, so even if we requested it, there would be no guarantee we would get it.”
As officials at all levels scramble to address the handling of Tuesday’s snowstorm, Millsap reminded citizens that government and residents alike are at the mercy of the weather.
“It’s the weather. There’s just no way to be 100 percent accurate with it. Sometimes it changes. Unfortunately, we were the victims this time,” he said, adding that out the bad there is also good.
“We saw it during the tornado a year ago in January where the citizens of Bartow County and its municipalities just rally around each other in these times. It never fails to amaze me.”
Stories cropped up across social media Tuesday and Wednesday of neighbors lending a hand and strangers offering assistance to others caught in the mayhem.
“My daughter and I were stuck yesterday on [Highway] 113 for around three hours yesterday,” Angela Grizzle said. “We saw many people helping one another pushing cars out of ditches and cleaning off windshields also stopping and sharing information with other on closings and detours. It is great to see people helping and giving of themselves this day and every day.”
Jenn Kemerer echoed Grizzle’s statement.
“After an eight-hour drive from Marietta to Bells Ferry Road and Highway 20, my kids and I had to abandon the car in the empty lot on Highway 20. We started the 3-mile hike home and about 1/2 mile up Bells Ferry a wonderful couple picked us up and drove us up to our neighborhood,” she said. “They weren’t even from our area. They said they just came down to help out — I don’t know who they were but they were a lifesaver. And they weren’t the only ones out on this road shuttling people home. I love this about our town.”