Stranded: Freak Snowstorm in the South Results in Epic Overnight Gridlock

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An unusual snowstorm in the Southeastern US left hundreds of motorists stranded overnight in their vehicles. Like a scene out of “The Walking Dead” (but with snow), freeways in Georgia and Alabama came to a complete halt in an epic gridlock.

Residents of the area were warned that a winter storm, quite severe for that part of the country, was headed their way.  But when the morning dawned without a cloud in the sky, people went blithely about their business.  Kids went to school, adults went to work, and it all went downhill in the early afternoon in a big way.

Thousands of students ended up spending the night at school, while others were trapped on school buses slowly getting them home. One group of kids in Atlanta were still on a school bus inching along 16 hours after they departed the school.

This wasn’t a dumping of 2 feet of snow, but a mere 2-3 inches.  Before those who live in Northern climates snicker, consider these facts: this kind of weather is nearly unheard of in Georgia and Alabama, and many of the motorists would have been perfectly fine driving home, but ended up being stranded due to the incompetence and panic of other drivers.

Cars on the freeways were at a complete standstill. No matter what a person’s winter driving skills were, they were stranded behind everyone else’s halted vehicle.

Everyone had been warned. Atlanta was expecting 1-2 inches. But people did not heed the forecast.

In the morning, when the snow had not arrived, people went to work and school, like nothing was coming.

Then it did.

Motorists panicked at around the same time in the afternoon. They clogged the streets en masse just as they began icing over.

In the end 2-3.5 inches hit central Georgia. That may not sound like much, but it’s usually how much snow falls in the region in a whole year, said CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward.

Motorists thought they could deal with it. They couldn’t. The spin-outs began.  (source)

The take-home preparedness point here is that it doesn’t matter how great of a driver you are in the snow, whether or not you have move to the tropics from your winter chalet in Antarctica, or whether you have huge knobby tires and 4WD.  Over-confidence in your own ability can cause people to forget about the lack of skills that other folks have. Many times, people end up in a crisis situation through no fault of their own and are at the mercy of other people who have no idea what they are doing.

Real-life scenarios we can learn from

An article from News 12 told the stories of several people who had been stranded due to the unusual weather.  Thinking through these events can make us better prepared. Let’s look at these situations from a prepper’s point of view and consider what supplies or courses of action we could take if we landed in a similar scenario.

Rebekah Cole prepared to spend the night in her car on an Atlanta street as the temperature slid into the teens and her tank ran low on gas.

She described what she had seen all around her as a “zombie movie.”

Streets, highways, interstates gridlocked with people in cars and trucks in the same situation she was in — stranded on the ice for 8, 10, 12 hours.

Ten hours after leaving her office, Cole’s nine-mile trip home was barely halfway over early Wednesday.

She left work Tuesday afternoon and was still sitting in traffic at 1 a.m. Wednesday. As she prepared to spend the night in her car, she hoped it wouldn’t run out of fuel.

“If I get gasoline, I will turn the heater on, keep the windows cracked a little bit,” she said.

The gas station was within sight, and it was swamped with people trying to get gas ahead of her.

Then the fuel light in her car went on. (source)

Preppers know that you should always keep your gas tank above the half-full mark.  A well-stocked vehicle would have had blankets or sleeping bags, as well as a candle that could be burned in the vehicle for warmth.  Finally, if you have proper footwear and attire, a four and a half mile walk home should not be unrealistically daunting in only a few inches of snow. (Note: This assumes that you are in good enough shape to do this with a loaded bug out pack – it’s important to be realistic regarding your physical condition and abilities.)

“I’m eight months pregnant and have my 3-year-old with me,” Atlanta-area resident Katie Norman Horne said on “SnowedOutAtlanta,” a Facebook page set up to help stranded motorists.

“We’ve been in the car for over 12 hours. We are fine on gas but is anyone near on the road and might happen to have any food or some water?” (source)

Every vehicle should have an emergency stash of food and water. We keep a Rubbermaid container with graham crackers, peanut butter, granola bars, 2 gallons of water, a can opener, and various canned goods in our vehicle. If you have small children, the addition of some kid-friendly treats and some items like coloring books, crayons, story books, and small toys would help your child to endure in long stay in the vehicle in much better spirits.

In Alabama and Georgia, authorities asked motorists to stay off the roads.

“This is a very dangerous situation,” Bentley said. “People need to stay at home. They need to stay there until conditions improve.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed urged residents to stop driving for at least a day to give crews a chance to clean up.

“The next 24 hours, I really need folks to stay home,” he said. “Go home, give us some time.”

The warnings not to drive came too late for countless people. The admonitions to make it home impossible to fulfill.

Early Wednesday, Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed said 30 salt trucks had been deployed.

Until they clear the roads, motorists may be stuck on ice for a while. (source)

This truly is the best advice.  In situations like this, the best preparedness strategy is to avoid the entire mess.  If you have everything you need at home, there are few reasons that you’d have to venture out into the chaos. The biggest danger in a scenario like this is dealing with the panic of someone who is unprepared, mentally and physically.  Their poor decisions and panic can cause unavoidable accidents.

Are you prepared?

A while back, a family in Nevada was stranded for several days in the frigid wilderness. Due to the supplies they had in their vehicle and the ingenuity and determination displayed by James Glanton, they survived a life-threatening situation.

Here are the minimum supplies you should have in your vehicle at all times:

Bug-out Bags

Fully loaded backpacks with the basics of survival should always be handy in the even that you do have to hike away from the scene of an accident.  Additionally, have cash in small denominations for other types of emergencies.

Food and Water

You should always have some non-perishable foods in the vehicle, and water filtration equipment as well as water, in the event that your emergency lasts for an extended period of time.

  • Crackers
  • Peanut butter
  • Canned stew or chili
  • Canned baked beans
  • Canned fruit
  • Cookies
  • Granola Bars
  • 10 gallons of water
  • Berkey-to-go for each family member (or other portable filtration device)

Vehicle Emergency Kit

This should always remain in the vehicle:

  • Sleeping bags
  • Tent
  • Lighter, flint, waterproof matches
  • Lighter fluid (this can help start a fire even in damp conditions)
  • Candles
  • Hunting Knife
  • Compass
  • Pocket Survival book
  • Signal flares
  • Space blankets
  • Atlas
  • Flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • Lantern
  • Mirrors for signalling
  • Whistles for making noise to help rescuers find you

First Aid Kit

Your kit should contain all of the basic items:

  • Bandages
  • Gauze
  • Pain relief pills
  • Antibiotic cream
  • Allergy medication and an Epi-pen (My daughter has a food allergy)
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Anti-diarrheal medication

Tools

A variety of tools should be on hand in the vehicle:

  • Basic automotive repair tools
  • Hammer
  • Prybar
  • Assorted screwdrivers
  • Pliers
  • Hacksaw
  • Hunting Knife
  • Can Opener

Extra clothing and footwear

Always keep spare clothing and footwear in the vehicle. Particularly in cold temperatures, dampness is the enemy. If your clothing or socks get wet, this greatly increases the risk of succumbing to exposure.

  • Snow pants
  • Coats
  • Long underwear
  • Socks
  • Gloves
  • Hats
  • Sturdy, comfortable walking boots
About the author:

Please feel free to share any information from this site in part or in full, giving credit to the author and including a link to this website and the following bio.

Daisy Luther is a freelance writer and editor.  Her website, The Organic Prepper, offers information on healthy prepping, including premium nutritional choices, general wellness and non-tech solutions. You can follow Daisy on Facebook and Twitter, and you can email her at daisy@theorganicprepper.ca

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27 Comments  to  Stranded: Freak Snowstorm in the South Results in Epic Overnight Gridlock

  1. Jenn says:

    Good post, as usual! :-)

    I was amazed when I read this one the news this morning. Being from MA, it was just so hard for me to fathom something that sounded like a snow flurry-pocalypse. I read that some poor kids were on a school bus for 16 hours before they finally got home from school. That was scary.

    I hope some of these people get some good out of this “warning shot” from Mother Nature and do start putting some sensible items in their vehicles now, for just in case something like this happens again.

    I also read that these states were using “deicing fluid.” I’d never heard of that method before. Weird. Here, it’s either salt or sand, and the driver’s own skill at driving. I know salt and sand aren’t that great for the environment, but I would think that either of these would be better than some other chemical.

    • awka says:

      From New England also, and it is difficult to fathom.

      I know when we get extreme heat, it can be a challenge for the unprepared. But most people I know would at least have extra water and so on with them. I do wonder and worry about schools and buses being ill-equipped to care for kids during extreme cold or heat though.

      And this storm was all over the news. I saw warnings days ago when glancing at my local forecast on weather.com.

  2. Getagrippeople says:

    As Daisy points out,
    ”Over-confidence in your own ability can cause people to forget about the lack of skills that other folks have. Many times, people end up in a crisis situation through no fault of their own and are at the mercy of other people who have no idea what they are doing.”
    No matter how prepared, we cannot predict everything. Better safe than sorry, prepared not scared, Keep calm and Prep On!

  3. CJ says:

    Just one question: Where do the vehicle’s occupants ride?

    • Daisy Luther says:

      CJ –

      Haha! Great question!

      I have everything in Rubbermaid containers in the back of my SUV, safely bungeed into place. I carried the exact same gear in my Fiat when I lived in the city – you can pack this stuff pretty compactly if you work at it.

      ~ Daisy

      • awka says:

        The comprehensive list is GREAT, but it sounds like many of these people would have been a lot more comfortable if they had simply thrown a spare blanket, a few bottles of water, a box of granola bars, and a flashlight in their vehicles.

        Regardless of where you live, any PARENT leaving the house with a small child should have drinks and snacks on hand. I’m a bit flabbergasted by that particular situation. Kids who attend school should also have a little extra in their packs. (I know some schools have their own bizarre rules, but if we did not homeschool, my child would have at least a bare minimum EDC kit.)

  4. George A says:

    Full blame goes towards the media and city officials. Warnings should have been the mornings call alarm. No excuse-roads were covered with ice :^(

  5. ed says:

    I live near Atlanta, the forecast was for the snow and ice to be south of the metro area. In this case the it was widespread.
    Traffic is horrible on a sunny day throw in an accident or two and you end up with gridlock. I have spent 5 hours traveling 60 miles.
    One of the reporters gave a pregnant lady with a 3 year old some food. Don’t know if it was the same one in the article but he did say he did a lot of hiking so he had power bars and water with him. In his news truck. The anchor said that, that reporter was the most prepared person he knew for a situation like this. The first thing I thought was he’s a prepper.
    Thank god I don’t have to deal with Atlanta traffic anymore. Peace ya’ll

  6. Diane says:

    How did this country ever win World War II? Ah, Americans were much different stock back then. Americans have become American’ts. Our grandparents would never let themselves be paralyzed by 2 inches of snow. Stop blaming someone else like George A. (above) and man-up. Take responsibility for yourselves. And after you prepare for the next 2 inch ‘snow storm’, Google ‘Grid down’.

    • G! says:

      How did this country ever win World War II? While winning the war, and making decisions on the home front are separate issues, I would say that it depended upon where the 1940 population was living and what age group you are talking about.

      I propose that Americans were not a much different stock back then. If you are talking about my grandmother, born 1892, then yes. She was made of tough stock. If you are talking about my parents, who were in their teens, no. Were they of better stock than the continuous generational down slide that we have seen since that time? Yes. My parents’ generation was not the “Greatest Generation.” It is a myth.

      My parents never prepared for anything.

      As an aside, a fine snow fell a week or so back, but my son had to get to where he needed to go. He did not have a choice. They did not cancel until the last minute. This meant he had to drive back home. Unfortunately, although he was driving very slowly, the car skidded and someone plowed into him. Neither were driving fast. It still totaled his car. There were two more accidents while he waited for the tow truck and more after that. The tow trucks could not keep up. It was a very thin layer of snow, but a slippery snow.

      I am guessing that snow removal and salt are not things that most southern areas usually need to be concerned about. They could have run out of these items. The drivers didn’t believe the forecast, nor understand the consequences of even a thin layer of ice.

      We have had very low temperatures for our area. If we need to go anywhere, especially at night, we pack up with supplies and thermoses of hot tea. I am certain that few people do. Few people layer up enough as well.

      We had a freak storm a couple of year ago. This was early in the year and the trees still had their leaves. No one really thought much about the snow as only 4″ was expected. The wet snow accumulated on the leaves tree limbs snapped They also fell on the electric lines. We were without electric for a week. While we were prepared on the homestead, we didn’t even think about the trees coming down.

      If people are not preparing for problems that they did not experience, one would hope that they would consider after they experienced a crisis.

  7. PanarchistamericanHelot says:

    Will a candle melt if it’s left in the trunk of a hot car in Summer?

    If so, if the candle was in a can, wouldn’t it be just fine?

    I read on here someplace that paraffin wax was bad. At the time I didn’t make the connection with it to candles. Are the majority of candles made from paraffin wax?
    If I buy a candle made from beeswax tomorrow, will I read an article the next day which says it’s bad for you?

    In the lists in the article I see lots of stuff for starting fires, and lots of flammable stuff, but no fire extinguisher?

    I read up on fire extinguishers, the cheap kind are caustic and will destroy some things you spray it with, and cleanup is next to impossible. The pricey stuff looked worthwhile. I think both kinds need shaken every now and then.
    A small one is better than none, but a small one might not be enough. Two, is one?

    Is a Zip Lock bag a good substitute for a plastic bottle to carry water in, or is there a better bag to use?

    The good thing to come out of that snow story is all the helpful things people are spontaneously and voluntarily doing for one another, all the lifelong friendships that are being made, and so far, no tales of how the state has gotten in the way and made things much worse for people. It all makes me think that when SHTF, the worst thing (aside from not being prepared) is the reaction from the government.

    • G! says:

      A zip lock bag will leak. Buy a thermos or other water containers. I prefer a thermos and have various sizes and kinds. I do not drive without fresh cold water in the summer or hot tea in the winter.

      • PanarchistamericanHelot says:

        Thanks for that G!, however; I was thinking more along the lines of carrying an empty ZipLock next to a straw-type filter. I wasn’t going to carry any water as it’s everywhere around where I’m at. I would just need something to transport it in, short-term. Plus, I’m trying to minimize what space I take up in the vehicle.

        I know it’s a type of hearsay not to carry food in a vehicle, but I’m not doing that either. I just don’t go far enough away to feel the need to. If I travel, sure, but not for EDC.

        I will have to try and remember to take a thermos the next time I travel though, the kind you can cook with. Not a bad idea at all, G!.

  8. hp says:

    And Big Daddy government wasn’t there to burp them.

    What’s going to happen when a REAL disaster hits?
    You know, fires, explosions, famine, disease. Kinda like the REAL disasters our military bombs and shoots into those Arabs every day. Regular people like you all.
    Not terrorists, but women and children and old people.
    Yeah. Karma baby, karma is gonna get ya!

  9. Julie says:

    “This wasn’t a dumping of 2 feet of snow, but a mere 2-3 inches. Before those who live in Northern climates snicker, consider these facts: this kind of weather is nearly unheard of in Georgia and Alabama, and many of the motorists would have been perfectly fine driving home, but ended up being stranded due to the incompetence and panic of other drivers.”

    This Yankee-turned-Southerner can tell you that it’s not necessarily the incompetence and panic of other drivers that cause this kind of chaos in snow, although it definitely plays a part. Southern cities and towns don’t have the same snow removal resources as other parts of the country because it doesn’t usually snow. In the South, the question “Are the roads clear? means “Has the sun melted the snow yet?”. And many times it’s not the snow that’s the problem but the ice. Ground’s so warm, snow falls, becomes wet and then freezes over.

    While it may seem like over-reacting to some, the best prevention is to get home before the snow starts.

    Great tips Daisy. I’m hoping this may have woken a few more people up and some will actually take the steps to be better prepared.

  10. Curtiss says:

    Living in Florida, I have learned that weatherpeople are generally wrong, must’ve a tough job. They rely on computers and weather models, which equals BEST GUESS on their part. I frequently wonder if they ever look out the window. They predict the weather, but are frequently wrong on the time and intensity. Hurricanes for example are frequently late, days late. The temperature is either high or low, having cold sensative plants you quickly learn I’d the overnight low is less than 42 you will probably go low enough for a frost. You just have to be prepared anywhere you go or are. This was predicted for days ahead of its arrival, and was devastating for the unprepared.

  11. Patti says:

    Another thing to remember, is many parents use the schools as daycare. Also, if parents decided to keep children at home because they read the weather reports and didn’t trust the school’s opinion they risk being visited by social workers. I home schooled for 27 years and wouldn’t put up with the interference with our family.

  12. Curtiss says:

    I would add a multi tool, one with a can opener, or at least a can opener to the list. Unless the cans are pop top ones,but I prefer to have a multi tool I any situation.

  13. Big M says:

    Jesus, where would you fit all of this stuff unless you were driving a tank-sized vehicle? And why no mention of a can opener?

    • Daisy Luther says:

      Editing to add can-opener to the list – it’s in there. :)

      And seriously, it doesn’t take up that much space if it’s well-packed. I’m not talking about a 10 person dome tent – just a small little shelter for 2.

  14. Dave says:

    Very good article and good lists. Might want to include some TP.

  15. Stealth Spaniel says:

    I moved from Los Angeles, land of perfect weather, beautiful beaches, and Mexican Cartel gangs-to the Sierras in Northern California. In about 1 hour, I figured out that it was beneficial to carry cat litter when it was winter. Provides incredible traction on snow and ice, doesn’t harm the environment, and provides some ballast when you start to spin out of control. I cannot believe that people were so woefully unprepared and so wimpy that they literally had to wait for Big Daddy Government to come get them. My mother was in her 20′s during The War (WW2) and I do consider them the greatest generation.I come from a long line of nurses, maybe that prepardness gene is in there. I grew up learning to take water, snacks, matches, some fat wood, a blanket, a thermos, etc with me. Wherever I was going. We always had dogs, so she took food for them too. What happens when you have a flat tire? The car engine dies and you cannot fix it? You are visiting the forest, a fire breaks out, and you are stuck someplace?
    It’s not like disasters aren’t happening. Tornadoes (Joplin, Mo), floods(Katrina), fires (LA recently), earthquakes(LA 94:Philippines 2013). I love Manolo Blahnik as much as the next girl, but I wouldn’t try to hike home in them. So, let’s try to educate the sheeple. It is in THEIR own self interest to start preparing. Once again, this proves you are, for the most part, on your own.

  16. Britt says:

    I myself live in Birmingham and was stranded by this storm. While I completely agree that people need to be prepared and I myself fortunately was, WE WERE NOT WARNED. The snowstorm was supposed to hit over 100 miles south of us, therefore schools and work were not closed. When the snow hit, they suddenly closed schools, resulting in thousands of cars hitting the road during the worst part of the storm to get their children. The state of Alabama has no salt trucks, snow plows, or even an emergency action plan for snow, and the wrecks got so bad traffic stopped completely, trapping motorists on the road.

    This is just another example of how the media portrays the south to be full of back-woods ignorant people. Don’t believe everything you read people.

  17. Carol Strain says:

    I read that it snowed. Because it is warm, the snow melted. Then the melted snow became 3″ of ice.

    I was born in Ohio. But I still try to avoid driving on ice. I have done it too often and gotten home safe, but it was not fun.

    Britt is correct.

    Being from Southwest Ohio, my culture and dialect is known as Northern-Southern. Our Christian culture with a southern sound is thoroughly disrespected by the Yankee libs.

    Southern Christian folk are the only ones it is politically correct to ridicule. I have begun to take back my culture one hillbilly/redneck joke at a time. People just cannot tell such jokes in my presence without hearing about their bigotry. I think it comes from their fear there may be a Granny Clampet in their pedigree. :)

  18. E.M. says:

    This article is OUTSTANDING and it’s refreshing to read a bunch of intelligent comments instead of the usual snarky ones on other websites!

    One point, if I may, Ms. Luther: the supply bag in your vehicle is referred to as the GHB or Get Home Bag because it has the items necessary for a safe and successful trip home or to your preferred place of shelter in a calamity, catastrophe, or apocalypse. The BOB or Bug Out Bag is what one would take with them when leaving an unsafe place of shelter and traveling to a safe place of shelter during the aforementioned calamity, catastrophe, or apocalypse. There are many of the same items, of course, but the terminology is different.

    And yes, Dave, knowing that there’s an extra roll or two of toilet paper in the car’s trunk is a good feeling.

  19. Carol Strain says:

    Oh Lordy! I’m a prepper and did not know it.

    I have 2 rolls of my favorite toilet paper from Aldi in my trunk, just in case.

    I always have some water and snacks with me.

    I could do better. Thank you Daisy for your list. I will make a copy of it and start filling a container for my car trunk.

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