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Dave Olson, Published February 01 2014

North Dakota native says light snow in South leads to chaos

ATLANTA – Kathy Boyer moved from North Dakota to Atlanta after the winter of 1996-97 and its non-stop parade of blizzards, followed by an historic flood.

And for the most part, the weather has left her alone since she made a home for herself in Dixie – no hurricanes, no tornadoes.

But when snow started falling In Atlanta on Tuesday, it was shades of Sherman’s March.

“Georgians freak out at the mention of a snowflake,” Boyer said, adding that because the state is so warm, some residents pooh-poohed weather reports that warned something out of the ordinary was heading their way.

That changed when snow started coming down about 11 a.m. Tuesday.

“They closed everything,” said Boyer, who like many left work early and joined a mass exodus onto the interstate highways serving Atlanta, whose metropolitan area has about 5 million people.

Boyer’s home commute, a 28-mile trip that normally takes 45 minutes on a good day, took considerably longer.

After leaving work at 1 p.m., she didn’t reach her driveway until midnight.

“It took 11 hours to drive those 28 miles and I was more fortunate than most. I had a couple of friends who spent the night in Home Depot or Target, because they stayed open all night,” said Boyer, who had filled her car’s fuel tank Monday night and was glad she did.

She said she never had to shut off her car’s engine during the long commute and she didn’t run out of gas as she inched her way down highways clogged with vehicles that did.

‘Praying the whole way’

Progress was impeded further by the many jack-knifed semis and vehicles left stalled by fender-benders.

“The roads were horrible; they just turned into glare ice, everyplace. I was praying the whole way,” Boyer said.

The problem wasn’t just the ice, she said, but the fact “the majority of people down here don’t know how to drive in it.”

“They were driving too fast and then they’d hit the brakes and slide into other cars. Or, when they were trying to accelerate, they would just step on the gas like the faster the wheels were spinning the better chance they had at moving, which doesn’t work,” Boyer said.

After a few hours, people started abandoning their cars, deciding they could make better time walking in the 20-degree weather.

“My grandson said it looked like some kind of a weird zombie apocalypse movie,” Boyer said.

‘Goodness of people’

On the flipside, she said the situation brought out the good in a lot of people, particularly those who lived near the interstates and other places where cars were getting stuck.

She said people pulled wagons and sleds loaded with bottles of water, juice boxes and sandwiches and walked from stranded motorist to stranded motorist, delivering provisions.

“It was very heartwarming, that part of it, to see the goodness of people and their willingness to go out and help,” she said.

Boyer said snow is rare in Georgia and when it does fall it usually doesn’t last very long.

That wasn’t the case this past week and cool temperatures kept much of the state icy and closed down until Friday.

“We got between one and three inches of snow,” Boyer said.

“It sounds really strange, but you’ve gotta remember, they don’t have the equipment to deal with it down here,” Boyer added.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555