Two weeks ago, as a snowstorm paralyzed metro Atlanta, leaving thousands of drivers stuck in icy gridlock and thousands of kids stranded at schools-turned-emergency-shelters, Governor Nathan Deal turned himself into a national punch-line and a local object of scorn when he referred to the storm as “unexpected.”
With another storm headed our way, the Gov. is taking no chances. As I write, the skies are still dry but he’s already declared a state of emergency for dozens of counties, condoned leave for state employees, advised tractor-trailers to stay off the Perimeter, and held a press conference to let everyone know that state agencies are prepared this time around. Last week, Deal named more than thirty people to a task force on storm “preparedness,” and surely it’s no coincidence that the group includes local TV meteorologists Glenn Burns, Markina Brown, and Ken Cook—after all, we wouldn't want the state team to miss weather warnings the rest of us are bombarded with on the nightly news.
Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed took his own drubbing over the storm-induced gridlock. Some of the criticism was due to the traffic pileups in Downtown, and some due to a testy TV appearance or two. I, for one, think the rush to pile on Reed wasn’t fair—after all the city represents only a fraction of the metro area’s population and the January fiasco was less about weather than a lack of regional transit planning and decades of lousy policy. This is something Atlantans understand better than outsiders, which is probably why most of the commentary citing the storm as a potential political career-ender for Reed came from national sources.
Nonetheless, Reed and City Hall have been in overdrive as the next storm approaches. The city’s joint operations center was stood up this afternoon, public safety staffers are on twelve-hour shifts, and salt spreaders and other equipment will deploy this evening. (It’s also worth noting the city’s latest media advisory lists emergency contact information for other municipalities in the metro region, and the not-too-subtle reminder that “for areas outside the City of Atlanta, please contact the local jurisdiction responsible for emergency operations in that area.”)
For parents this latest weather crisis means more snow days, cabin fever, and scrambling for childcare—the APS, DeKalb, and Fulton school systems already announced closures. For businesses, the storm means more disruption.
For Deal and Reed, on the other hand, the prospect of ice, rain, or sleet falling from the heavens is a heaven-sent opportunity for a political do-over. Which means that voters will be watching their response as closely as the governor and mayor are watching the skies.