Thursday, January 30, 2014

Atlanta SnowJampocalypse 2014
[Revised Feb 1, 2014]

Here is my story. My story is not everyone’s story. My story has a much happier ending than most that had to endure this hellish snow, ice and cold debacle that many all around Atlanta found themselves in.

Here I will document my journey, try to provide some perspective and give us all a call to action. Writing this is also good therapy for me to process everything that has happened over the last 2 days.
The Journey 

My journey started near Perimeter Mall (Ashford-Dunwoody & Perimeter Center East). I should have left my office at the encouragement of my wife around 11:30 but not a single piece of precipitation had fallen at my location. I left at 12:40 when the snow had been falling for about 10 minutes. I have a small pickup truck that is rear-wheeled drive and I knew a successful drive home would require good traction. So I went to Home Depot in Dunwoody and bought 500 pounds of sand (10 bags). I put 250 pounds of weight over each wheel and then headed toward I-285 via Mt Vernon Highway and Glenridge.

Home Depot to I-285 took about 1:30 hours. I-285 to I-75 heading west on the top end perimeter took about 1:45. I traveled approximately 11 miles from my office in about 3.5 to 4 hours. Once I reached I-75 heading north is where a terrible drive home turned to horrendous drive rapidly heading toward a hellish drive.

I look up and see The Weather Channel building while I am merging onto I-75 and think to myself, “Boy did they and every other meteorologist miss this one”. The north/top end of all this snow stuff was supposed to be 15-30 miles south of my location. I have a friend who works there and I am not going to bash this profession. But trying to predict the weather which is guided by the hand of God is a hard thing to do. They did their best given what information they had but I must confess I was frustrated. 

About this time I was relieved to learn that my children and wife were all safe at home so I could focus my energy on getting myself home and not worrying about them.

The next 2 miles traveled took 3 hours which got me to the off ramp to Delk Road. As time moved on I realized that getting home was not achievable for the night. My mom’s house was about 4 miles away. I received a kind offer from friends that were less than 3 miles away. But I found myself stuck in an exit lane that would take me away from their location. Going to mom’s house – let’s get there.

As I slowly creeped on the ramp to get onto Delk road the sun set and the road hardened into ice. I look up and see a highway message sign showing multiple lanes closed on I-75 North between the loops. The exit ramp to the South 120 Loop was closed. Glad I got off at Delk. Cars sliding and spinning out on the ramp in front of me. This was not good. It was finally my turn to go through a bad ice patch and I made it and then headed across the frozen ice on the overpass to cross over the highway. Then I had to stop.

The cars in front of me stopped and I had no place to go. The cars finally broke free in front of me and I am halfway across the bridge and I have zero traction. My tires spinning - the truck sliding towards the curb. Cars passing me. It was a very frustrating feeling that I couldn’t move. I had fear that another car may hit me. Feelings of helplessness set in that this is where I will be stranded. After a quick deep breath and a prayer for an angel of mercy to help me, several men came from behind to help me.

First a man came along and stood/jumped on my bumper hoping to improve my traction but that didn't help.  Another car then became stuck on the ice in front of me and a couple of men immediately got them out of the way.  Another man came to help me.  After a couple of pushes I had moved maybe an inch.  The man came up and told me his fingers were cold since he did not have any gloves and said that we was going to warm up in his car and come right back.  I saw him walk to his car and then drive away. Ok then.  A few moments later another man had 2 4-foot strips of carpet that were about 2 feet wide.  They put the carpet under my tires and it got me moving across the overpass. I wish I could have stopped to thank them but the ice and conditions were preventing me. 

After this 20 minute ordeal I am skating my way to my next best option, so I thought, which was to get on Cobb Parkway/Highway 41 and continue to head north. Then my journey stopped again after I merged onto Cobb Parkway. No one was moving. Traffic was stopped ahead. About 1 car per 5 minutes was making it up the hill. I finally started to lose it. Young, immature drivers passed between me and shoulder where cars were already parked - abandoned/stranded. They forced their way in while almost hitting me and others. They did not hit me but their impatience to get ahead made me lose my patience and I just laid into the horn and I was yelling my head off at these idiots. After a few minutes I calmed down and look up and see a stranded school bus trying to get back on Cobb Parkway but traffic was so jammed the bus could not get out. I strained to see if there were kids inside but could not tell. Good Samaritans were helping move cars out of the way so the bus could get out and head south which finally happened after about 30 minutes. I said a prayer for the kids that may have been stranded and that they make it home safely. 

It was now around 9:00 PM. It was decision time. I realistically knew that I could not make it up the hill and turning around to go another route was not feasible. I was about a 3 mile walk to my mother’s house so the decision was made to abandon the truck and walk. There were cars parked on the right shoulder as far as I could see and I could not see an opening to park my truck. I was able to manage to move left to the next lane and then I crossed over to the southbound lanes where there was plenty of room to park off of the shoulder.

It was about 9:20 PM and I had an extra jacket in the car that I grabbed that morning and put it on. I was layered up on top. I had four layers on top: t-shirt, sweatshirt, REI fleece jacket and a Eddie Bauer fake rain jacket with hood (it’s fake as I have worn it in the rain its only good for about 5 minutes of rain before you get soaked). I also had on jeans, Wigwam socks, Oboz Firebrand shoes, pair of gloves and a baseball cap. I can’t recall the temperature but guess it was around 20 degrees and windy. I grabbed by backpack laptop bag and also my REI trekking pole that I keep in the truck and off I went.

I had been in the truck for about 9 hours straight and I needed a bio break very badly. Waffle House 200 yards ahead. Let’s go. I walk in and the place is packed so I make a bee line to the restroom and oh what a relief. I needed to pee for the last 4 hours. Whew!

The journey continued heading north uphill on Cobb Parkway while watching some cars come sliding down the hill and others struggling successfully up the hill. I came up on this truck that was sitting on the side of the road near Southern Tech and this female college student rolled down her window with tears in her eyes asking for help. She was trying to make it to a street just 50 feet ahead of her but her tire became stuck in a drainage grate up against the curb. I told her I would help her out and I tried to assess the situation to get her on her way to make it to a friend’s dorm room on campus.

As I was on the passenger side of the truck explaining to her what we were going to do, along comes a small car sliding and moving very fast and hits the driver’s side of this poor girls truck. The car tapped along the side of the truck and finally came to a stop just ahead of the truck blocking the path I had in place to help out my new stranded friend. The girl burst into tears and explained she just had body repairs made to the truck and now this. I got her calmed down and went to check on the lady driving the other car. She was fine but she had her phone up to her ear the entire time while driving and still hadn’t got off of it. So this lady in the car starts to get out of her car on the passenger side as I tell her we are going to move her car out of the way. The best line of the night was when this lady said “I cannot drive in this stuff” in her broken English. I think to myself “Really? When did you come to that realization?”

About this time several guys emerged that I later found out were on the Southern Tech rugby team. We moved the small car out of the way and in a safe place and the wonderful ice-driving lady returned to the warmth of her car. I had the girl driving a truck get her phone out and take pictures of the car tag of the other car and get the name and phone number of the other lady who of course did not have her insurance card in her vehicle. I think there was very minor scrapes to both vehicles. I was telling this girl to do all of this and she was telling me “Yes sir”. I told her thank you but I still like to make myself feel young so don’t say yes sir to me. We both needed a bit of humor to break the tension of the moment. We all finally got the truck free but it was now was sitting in the middle of the road. The Rugby guys were in “let’s impress the girl mode” to help her get her truck to safety. I disagreed with their next several moves. There were too many cooks in the kitchen so I grabbed my trekking pole and moved on as I still had quite a long walk ahead of me. I’m sure they were going to make it work but they wanted to do it the hard way (I saw the truck the next day in a safe place).

The trekking pole came in very handy as I was able to jam the pole into the ice as I crossed slick icy patches so I could keep my balance and not fall. While I was dealing with the car situation someone texted me a number that I could call so come pick me up and take me to my destination. So I called it and it was the Marietta Police. The nice lady told me they could take me to a shelter but that was all they could do. In the course of the conversation she told me Marietta Diner was open and that was less than a half mile ahead of me. Let’s go!

Throughout the day I was always assessing my situation so I could think clearly and not make stupid decisions and find myself in a worse situation than I was already in. I had not had lunch but grabbed a Quaker Oat snack bar from the office when I left and had it while stuck in traffic but did not have any drink. So I knew I would not die of starvation but I was aware of my fluid intake, lack thereof, and that I had been exerting a lot of energy. Just because you don’t feel thirsty doesn’t mean you don’t need fluids. Marietta Diner was my refueling spot.

I walk into the diner and it was about a third full. I was greeted with very warm smiles with concern and then I become more aware of my condition. I was breathing heavy and my face began to burn from the heat of the diner against my exposed skin. They asked if I was staying awhile and offered me a large booth which I replied no thanks and got a smaller booth.

I peeled off my layers as I was quite warm. I took a moment to assess my physical condition. Fingers good. Face thawing. Thighs were chilly but fine. Feet - they were perfect. A big shout out to Oboz and their waterproof technology (B-Dry). My feet were warm and dry in spite of the buildup of snow that packed on them.

I ordered a glass of water, hot tea and a bowl of chicken noodle soup. That hit all the right spots. Talked to my wife and mom and assured them that I was fine. After a 45 minute respite I was back on my way. The time now is 11:30 PM. I had about 1.5 miles to walk to my mom’s house.

I became aware of my sister’s situation that she was stuck on I-75 near Howell Mill road and I became very concerned for her as she was truly stuck – moving about 1 car length per half hour (if that). Other friends posting on Facebook stuck on I-285 doing about the same. This was a very bad situation and getting worse. I realize that my situation is not good but I am very fortunate and blessed that I have a safe, warm and familiar place to go. I spoke with another gentleman at the diner and he had a tough time and walked to the diner from the highway. His poor wife was stuck in Alpharetta and they lived way up I-575 off of exit 14. They had a long journey ahead of them.

I finished my trek to mom’s house although taking a longer route. I went along the side of major roads instead of back roads as if something happened to me or if I fell and injured myself I would be able to seek assistance much easier. Situational awareness, risk management and a good attitude are 3 key ingredients to getting out of a difficult situation.

I reach mom’s house shortly after midnight. I then let myself finally relax and I realize the mental stress I put myself under. Another relative had sought shelter at mom’s house, Diana a step-cousin. God was looking out for me as Diana happened to have a certain medicine that I take for an acid reflux condition I have so I did not have to worry about having a reflux attack at night. Thank you Lord for looking out for me – down to the very important details.

After we watched the news I realized how bad things were around Atlanta. I went to bed and became more aware of situations when I logged onto the Facebook group SnowedOutAtlanta. I was relieved that Atlantans were extending helping hands and taking in strangers into their homes. I barely slept. I texted off and on with my sister who was still trying to reach safety. She finally caught up with her fiancé at Windy Hill at 7:00 AM. She finally made it to her house by 9:00 AM. Poor thing had to endure 18+ hours in her car.

Diana and I ventured out in her car and she was able to drive me to my truck around 1:30 PM on Wednesday. Although the temperature was below freezing, the sun and wind was helping melt the ice some on the roads. Well enough to try to make it the rest of the way home. Diana actually had to drive me to my truck twice as I left my keys at my mom’s house – way to go you big goof ball!

Diana left and successfully made her journey home to Woodstock. I drove my truck back to mom’s house and collected my laptop bag and said my goodbyes to mom and started my journey home to Kennesaw.

Cobb Parkway was mostly passable but cars littered the roadway. Most were off to the side but many were abandoned in the middle of lanes which were still on sheets of ice. I finally walked in the front door of my house about 27 hours after I left my office. My journey was over and very happy to be at home with my sweet family.  What a beautiful sight and reunion!

25 miles in 27 hours – that is a commute for the ages!  

Lessons Learned 

1) You need to be prepared for any situation – I faired fine but did not consider myself properly prepared. I will prepare an emergency kit to keep in the car and you should too (see my list below). The Scout motto is “Be Prepared”.

2) Patience is the key – especially when driving on ice. Slow and steady wins this race and if many others would have done likewise I think many would have had slightly better outcomes.

3) I said it before: situational awareness, risk management and a good attitude. I firmly believe that if I was not constantly doing this I would have let panic set in and would have been in a worse situation.

4) When things get bad, lend a helping hand. I have seen it first hand, read about it and experienced it. I wish I had done more of it on my journey. It’s a great feeling and warms the heart to see strangers helping strangers. If we did this more often, and not just in crisis situations, the world would be a much better place.

5) This was a great reminder for me that God watches over His children. In 1 Peter 5:7 it says “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you”. It’s true. I prayed that they Lord would get me home safe and no damage to my truck. My prayer was answered but it took awhile!

6) I need to listen to my wife more. If I would have left my office at 11:30 as she told me I might would have made it home that evening.

7) Trust your instincts. Before I left for work Tuesday morning I thought about grabbing my mini-survival kit off of my hiking backpack. It was strapped on to the pack and I didn’t want to deal with taking it off. But I would have been able to keep my face and thighs warmer if I took it with me. I also had the thought to grab my toboggan hat. I looked briefly for it but didn’t remember where I put my Sherpa (the brand name of the hat). My ears would have been warmer on my hike. Leaving for work that morning I had another thought that I dismissed – stay home from work today. Ugh! Trust your instincts.  


Being involved in Boy Scouts we teach and emphasize being prepared. If I had to spend the night in the car, here is what I would have wanted and needed for basic survival. This is not the perfect list but you should make one similar to it and keep in your car. My son and I have talked about doing one for our vehicles when he was working on his Emergency Preparedness merit badge but it was in the context of having it for a road trip. Why would you ever need one when you are here and around town? Well if you get stuck in an ice storm, or any other crazy situation, and nowhere to go here is a recommendation. This is not a list for being in the backcountry or a long road trip – this is a city version. Here are the items I would recommend: 

1) Bottle of water: 1 per average number of passengers

2) Protein in the form of an energy bar or peanut butter crackers: 1 to 2 of these items per average number of passengers

3) Pair of gloves

4) Hat

5) Extra pair of socks: dry feet are keys to warmth

6) Cheap rain jacket: type that stuffs into a small size - you need to keep your core dry and can serve as a windbreak should you have to be outside

7) Emergency blanket: the cheap, thin, shiny ones you see in the camping section at the store – it will keep you and others warm if you need to shelter in place in your car

8) Medicine: 1 to 2 day supply of critical doctor prescribed meds

9) 1st Aid Kit: Buy a cheap one at Wal-Mart that has band aids, antibiotic cream and Tylenol/ibuprofen.

10) Backup phone battery: Search Anker Astro Mini battery on Amazon. Batteries like this, or similar, are always handy to have when your cell phone dies and you don’t have access to power.

11) Flashlight

12) Duck tape: No kit is ever complete unless there is duck tape.

Some of you out there will think this is not exhaustive enough but these items will help you survive if you are trapped in place for 24 hours.

Regardless of what is in your kit, you need to make one!