Lessons Learned…

Unless you live in another country and don’t pay attention to US news or in a cave without internet access, you’ve probably heard about the little snowstorm which brought life in most of the southeastern US to a near standstill and paralyzed the city of Atlanta and the surrounding area. This post will be related to the storm but will not discuss the preparedness or response by state and local officials. There are enough of those types of discussions going on already and besides, no one wants to read a bunch of political crap on my blog any more than I want to type it. I have my opinions, you have yours. They may or may not be the same…let’s just leave it at that and move on.

So…if you’re still with me, you’re probably wondering what this post is actually supposed to be about. Well, I’ll tell ya… It’s about the lessons I learned about my own preparedness for an event like this…or lack thereof.

Honestly, as Tuesday morning started to unfold, I wasn’t all that concerned about the storm. Yeah, we knew it was coming. I received a notice on my phone announcing a Winter Weather Advisory sometime late Saturday or Sunday another announcing a Winter Storm Warning late Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. But…all the forecasts that I’d seen prior to Monday morning called for the worst of the storm to be south and east of Atlanta with minimal impact to Atlanta and the counties north of town. Unfortunately, as we all know now, that wasn’t the way it happened. Anyway, ConnieLou and I went to work like it was a regular Tuesday morning with a vague plan to leave a little early if things started to look bad.

At the office Tuesday morning I kept an eye on a couple of different weather and news websites in hopes of having a chance of getting out of town early if it actually did hit the fan. I started hearing reports of snow in Moreland, Georgia, about 50 miles south of Atlanta by 10:00 and started seeing flurries outside my office around 11:30. The snow started coming harder and by 12:30 I noticed it was starting to stick on the ground and not just on the cars, bushes and other elevated surfaces…time to get ready to get out of Dodge. I had to round up a couple of things to take home to work on and take care of a few last minute things but at 12:50 I was walking out the door…too late.

My good friend Beth T. posted the following graphic on Facebook that gives a pretty good summary of how the traffic situation unfolded:

Time Lapse

To make a long story short, I left the office at 12:50, picked ConnieLou up at the Atlanta airport where she works around 3:30 (OK, to be fair, she wasn’t able to break away early so I waited for her for about 30 minutes in the Cell Phone Lot) and we finally arrived home at 5:30. As one can see on the graphic, traffic around Atlanta, particularly to the west and south was pretty much screwed by 1:00 and, of course, we were headed southwest. By most accounts, we actually made pretty good time. I traveled the 10 miles from my office to the airport and then the remaining 25 miles home in a little over 4 hours total driving time. For comparison, the same trip takes just over an hour most days under ‘normal’ traffic conditions. By mid-afternoon, well, I think this pretty much sums things up.

Sorry Folks

As we drove along, I had some time to think about things that I could have and probably should have done…along the way. For lack of a better term, let’s call them ‘lessons learned’ even though none of them are new at all…

Lesson #1 – Keep a Weather Eye…

A sailor’s saying. Sailors throughout the ages have kept a close eye on the weather which can change fast on the ocean and conditions can turn deadly very quickly. In this case we probably should have had a better plan to leave earlier. The only problem…snow that actually causes problems is relatively rare here in our area so we probably don’t pay as much attention to it as we probably should have.

Lesson #2 – Be Prepared…

Yeah, I was a Boy Scout and, yeah, I should have been better prepared. As I said, we headed off to work just like it was a normal winter Tuesday. For me, normal winter Tuesday attire usually consists of a light long sleeve shirt, a pair of khaki pants or maybe jeans, office shoes, a regular pair of socks and a fleece jacket. Looking back, I probably should have tossed a heavy coat, a heavy pair of socks, some gloves and a stocking cap and a pair of waterproof boots in the trunk…just in case.

Lesson #3 – Take a Ditch Kit…

Sorry, I didn’t have a cute name for this one but the message is clear…there was no ditch kit in the car in case we got stranded. What’s a ditch kit? It’s simply a bag or box that contains a few survival items in it such as a blanket, a couple bottles of water, a couple of granola bars, a spare pair of socks, a pair of gloves, a stocking cap and a flashlight and spare batteries. One can get much more elaborate but those few items can keep one relatively warm and alive for a little while when stranded until help arrived. Over the next few weeks a ditch kit will be put together for each of our vehicles.

Lesson #4 – Don’t Rush It…

Aside from everyone in Atlanta leaving at almost the same time, one of the biggest problems is that people were in a hurry to get home to their families to make snowmen and throw snowballs or to put a pot of chili on to cook. Snowmen and snowballs won’t be much fun and chili won’t taste all that good if you try to merge your vehicle with someone else’s because you got in a hurry or were being careless in less than ideal road conditions. Don’t rush it…slow down and put some space between your car and others on the road.  We actually did pretty good on this one.

Lesson #5 – Charge It…

Pretty simple, keep a charger for your cell phone in your car…not just one with a cigarette lighter plug but one that can be plugged into a standard electrical outlet as well.  Most folks keep a charger that plugs into a cigarette lighter in their car but that may or may not do you much good if you have to abandon your car and need to charge your phone somewhere later.  Keep both in your care and take both with you of you do decide to abandon the car and hoof it…its good to have options.

Lesson #6 – Sometimes its OK to Litter…

But only when we’re talking about keeping a small bag of kitty litter in the car for a source of traction when things get slick.  A little kitty litter under the wheels might not get you home but it can help you manuever out of a slick spot if need be.  A word of caution here…after reading this one may think it might be a good idea to spread kitty litter on your sidewalks and steps for traction as well for getting a vehicle out of a slick spot…DON’T DO IT!  Kitty litter is typically made from dried and pulverized bentonite clay.  If its allowed to absorb water as snow and ice melt it will become an unbelievably slippery mess (don’t ask how I know this).  If you want to put something on your sidewalks or outside stairs for traction without harming your landscaping…just use sand.

All in all we got lucky. We traveled 35 miles in the same amount of time it took many folks to travel just 4 or 5 and we got home before dark on the same day we left from work. Thankfully we were in a front wheel drive so we didn’t slip or slide at all on our way home…which is more than we can say for many of the vehicles we saw around us. Yeah, we got lucky.

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One Response to Lessons Learned…

  1. blake says:

    being from a more northern climate i would like to add this good sir. all members of my family are required to throw adequate clothin in the car whenever we go anywhere, summer even, though it would not be the same as winter, the slogan is, hey you don’t have to wear it, just throw it in in the car. the winter kit for both cars includes enough blankets, overalls, and such. i will admit i’m pretty anal about this stuff, in the summer i have provisions and gear to live for weeks, just in case i walk out the door and don’t come back for awhile so to speak, winter time it’s just the standard couple types of fuel, stoves, water filter, and various other standard deals like the mandantory shovels, saw, etc…not worth going into. most of us carry fire startin stuff on our person and a compass if we are walkin or goin to work anyway so it’s not that big a deal, the point is winter requires a winter kit and it has to be there before it’s needed. i also make sure the gas is fllled before any storm arrives, or if the temps are goin from “warm” to cold. that warm air is moist. and a low tank has more air to condense the water out. frozen gas lines are something i have learned to avoid with simple measures like that. another one i do but haven’t needed to use, i alway carry a roll of tp in a boyscout pop corn tin dust taped shut. (that get used of course) but i started carrying a 50ml centifuge tube of cookin oil in the center of the tube long with a fire kit baggie. i figure pourin the oil on the paper in the can if i had to would be warmer than a candle. maybe someday i’ll test it out


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