An unusual blanket of snow across the South triggered epic traffic snarls and stranded hundreds of students at their schools Tuesday.
Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama struggled to cope with 2 to 4 inches of snow, while Atlanta’s 3 inches led to six-hour commutes — at least for drivers who didn’t abandon their cars on the slippery roads.
“I just decided to get … out and walk home like the rest of the people. I didn’t know where they were going, but now I get it. This is stupid,” one driver said in a video posted to Instagram, which turned into a catalog of traffic jams and snowball fights for Georgians unused to snow.
“Georgia was not ready for this, y’all,” another user posted in a video capturing a massive traffic jam in downtown Atlanta, at one point focusing on an emergency vehicle that had gotten bogged down in the lines of waiting cars. “The [darn] ambulance can’t even get through.”
As drivers burned through audio books and made unexpected friends in the endless traffic, Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Georgia.
Marietta City Schools canceled afternoon bus rides for students because of the traffic, leading to worries that many students would have to stay at school overnight.
“We definitely might be pulling an all-nighter here,” Thomas Algarin, spokesman for Marietta City Schools, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
[Updated 9:47 p.m.: Late Tuesday, Deal announced he would send state troopers to schools to rescue stranded students, the Associated Press reported. He said state and local officials also would try to rescue people who were marooned along highways, where traffic remained gridlocked late into the night.]
Some parents were infuriated after the district instructed parents mid-afternoon to pick up their children from the school’s transportation depot.
“You can simply cannot do this, you are responsible for getting the kids home safe! The incompetency is drooling from this [Facebook] page!” one commenter wrote on the district’s announcement on Facebook.
“So you wait until the weather and traffic are the worst to tell parents they have to come get their children,” another added. “You also assume everyone has a means to get their children. You should have had early dismissal like EVERYONE else! This is ridiculous!”
Other areas of the South have already or were expected to experience freezing rain, sleet and rain. States from Texas to Virginia braced for an unusual winter freeze expected to last through Thursday.
“What’s different about this storm is that it’s not a dry cold snap,” National Weather Service forecaster Brian Hurley said. “It’s a rare occurrence.”
Some states, such as Florida, have not experienced this kind of hard freeze since December 2004, Hurley said. “The cold air just gets shallower and shallower as you move southward,” he said.
Through Wednesday, the heaviest snowfall accumulation was expected to hit North Carolina and Virginia, leaving up to 12 inches of snow in some areas.
South Carolina, Louisiana and North Carolina issued states of emergency because of the heavy snow and cool temperatures, which Hurley said will be in the upper 20s and lower 30s.
“Now is the time to get a game plan for you and your family,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal warned residents in a statement.
According to statistics from flight tracking service website FlightAware.com, more than 3,200 flights within, into or out of the U.S. had been canceled Tuesday and about 2,700 flights were delayed.
Atlanta’s Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport led the way with more than 460 departing flights canceled.
The weather service’s Hurley said most of the South will warm up by Friday, with some areas – such as South Carolina and Georgia – reaching the mid-50s.
That was little consolation for Atlanta drivers facing long slogs home on Tuesday.
“OK, so, we left at 3:40 p.m. and we’re still stuck in traffic and it’s about to be 7 p.m. We may have another three more hours to go,” one passenger said in a video posted to Instagram in the middle of a traffic jam. She turned to the driver, a man: “I feel like this is the apocalypse, right babe?”
“Yep,” he responded.
“Oh my gosh.”