Metro Atlanta temperatures are perched comfortably in the 60s this week, and the region may be in for a warm, dry winter. But state transportation officials are planning for the worst.
The Georgia Department of Transportation has boosted its stock of brine, bought dozens of new plow attachments and taken other steps to ensure it can keep state highways open this winter.
“We learn every year,” said GDOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale. “We make changes every year to address new issues that pop up.”
There’s been plenty to learn in recent years. In 2014, metro Atlanta became a national laughingstock when a couple inches of snow stranded thousands of motorists for hours.
That led Gov. Nathan Deal to appoint a task force to address Georgia’s winter weather preparations. Among other things, the state bought more equipment, started treating roads earlier and improve coordination with local governments that handle city and county roads.
Last year metro Atlanta caught a break – with only one significant winter storm. But even that offered some lessons.
Dale said GDOT realized it needed to devote more attention to major highway intersections – which are usually elevated and freeze faster – and to the Downtown Connector. This year it added an 11th brine tanker truck to its metro Atlanta fleet. The new truck will be dedicated to those locations.
GDOT also has doubled its statewide brine storage capacity to 200,000 gallons. And it bought 41 salt spreader and plow attachments for pickup trucks to supplement its fleet of 436 plows.
GDOT also learned a valuable lesson from Hurricane Irma, which snarled traffic in September as residents of Florida and coastal Georgia fled and returned home.
During the hurricane, the agency shifted CHAMP units - which provide roadside assistance outside the metro Atlanta area, much like our region’s HERO units - from the northern part of the state to the south to help motorists and clear roads. During a winter storm, it can bring units north, if needed, Dale said.
If we’re lucky, GDOT may not have much use for such measures. Channel 2 Action News Meteorologist Brad Nitz expects north Georgia weather to be warmer and drier than normal over the next few months.
But state officials want Georgia motorists to be prepared. They recommend carrying blankets, batteries, a flashlight and other provisions in their cars.
“Even though it’s in the high 60s, now is the time to gear up,” Dale said. “Now’s the time to start getting prepared, because we’re preparing.”
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