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Georgia’s preparation in eye of media storm

Call it Gridlockalypse — the snowball to the face of metro Atlanta’s image.

This sunny capital of the Sun Belt has always had a bit of a reputation when it comes to winter weather.

Others crack wise about our suspect driving, runs on bread and milk and school closings at the first hint of flakes. We typically brush it off, smug in the fact that our fair weather is a cornerstone of economic recruitment and integral to our charm.

But, once again, we find ourselves the butt of national jokes and derision for allowing a two-inch snowstorm to bring a metropolitan area of 6 million people to its knees.

Al Roker, the Today show weatherman, called the government response to the storm “a shame.”

“The mayor and the governor got on TV and said, ‘Oh, this wasn’t expected.’ But that’s not true,” Roker said Wednesday of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Gov. Nathan Deal. “We were talking about this Monday, that this could happen.”

The national response to our first — and hopefully only — significant snowfall of 2014 hasn’t been the usual razzing over our (brief) winters of discontent, but a media maelstrom.

“Atlanta, hub to major corporations and the world’s busiest airport, once again found itself unprepared to deal with the chaos — despite assurances that city officials had learned their lessons from a 2011 ice storm,” an Associated Press story from Wednesday said.

“It’s called WINTER and it happens every year. It will actually (last) a few more months,” one commenter wrote below a New York Times article about the Southern storm.

Americans were bombarded with images of thousands of motorists trapped on freeways or bunked at supermarkets, while kids spent the night locked down on buses or in their schools.

Frozen in one icy hell of a commute, metro Atlanta’s roads devolved into a vehicular graveyard a few zombies shy of The Walking Dead.

“I know what you’re thinking (I grew up outside of D.C. and Boston): “How can 2 inches of snow shut down Atlanta?” wrote Conor Sen in a post on the website for The Atlantic. The Brookhaven resident’s post later ran down the political, racial and fiscal quagmire that’s vexed the region’s governance and transportation system for decades.

Think perception doesn’t matter? Think again, said John Boyd, a New Jersey site consultant who helps companies pick where they locate new facilities and create jobs.

This latest storm comes on the heels of a similar debacle three years ago, and the intense media coverage has again put the issue in the face of corporate America, he said.

“Historically, Atlanta has always been under the microscope when it comes to traffic congestion, the relative lack of public transit … and the vulnerability to ice storms,” Boyd said. “It’s a wakeup call, and a reminder of something to account for when (companies are) considering Atlanta.”

Reed and Deal both defended the government response to the storm, at one point saying local and state governments were better prepared than last time.

In a tense interview with Carol Costello on CNN, Reed rejected criticism the city hasn’t learned from the 2011 storm and touted steps Atlanta took to beef up its road equipment and public safety personnel in ensuing years. The mayor acknowledged mistakes were made in the simultaneous release of schools and government workers — with many private companies’ following suit.

In a midday Wednesday press conference, Deal said the officials made the best decisions they could, based on the forecasts they had.

That response didn’t sit well with some.

“Watching GA Governor Nathan Deal’s press conference. Wow! Talk about digging (a) hole for yourself. #takeresponsibility,” tweeted Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Bettes.

Though the city of Atlanta might make up only a fraction of the region’s people, “Atlanta” became global shorthand for the region’s hodgepodge of cities and counties.

Fair or not, a nation wondered if Atlanta was a city too inept to plow.

“DC peeps who complain no one here knows what to do when it snows, check out what happens when it snows in Atlanta,” tweeted Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report.

And the hits kept coming.

“There’s a PR crisis snowballing for the city of #Atlanta right now. Pun intended. #Snowpocalypse,” tweeted Holly Frew, a spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., for the international nonprofit World Vision USA.

And earlier, she tweeted: “The guy having the worst day in the world today is @kasimreed,” the Twitter handle for Atlanta’s mayor.

Comedians couldn’t resist comparing the traffic gridlock to an often deadlocked Congress.

“Congratulations Atlanta! You are The State of the Union,” comedian and The Daily Show contributor Lewis Black tweeted Wednesday, a day after President Barack Obama gave his annual address to the nation.

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