By JEFF MARTIN, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta got a mere spritzing of rain Tuesday, hours after a winter weather forecast prompted authorities to close government offices, shutter schools and cancel flights in anticipation of icy streets.
But the southern city could still see some traffic woes as fans arrive for the Super Bowl, with temperatures expected to drop more than 20 degrees during the day.
Some snow fell Tuesday in Georgia’s northwest corner, but it was sweater weather during Atlanta’s morning commute. The shoes of office workers made crunching sounds on downtown sidewalks, where road salt caught the light from outdoor video boards set up for the Super Bowl and reflected shades of blue, red and green.
Ultimately, precipitation from the storm front proved negligible for Atlanta, where it was about 50 degrees before dawn and was expected to reach the 20s by Tuesday evening, National Weather Service Meteorologist Sid King said.
But Atlanta takes even a threat of icy weather seriously after enduring its infamous “snow jam” five years ago, when cars, trucks and school buses became marooned for hours on the southern city’s freeways.
Delta Air Lines “proactively” canceled about 170 flights at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, its main hub, the Atlanta-based airline announced late Monday. The Federal Aviation Administration warned of potential weather-related delays, particularly through Chicago and from Boston, as Super Bowl travel into Atlanta increases.
Anticipating the storm, Gov. Brian Kemp announced the closure Tuesday of state offices in more than 30 counties across northern Georgia, saying “temperatures are going to plummet.” Atlanta Public Schools closed its campuses, and other area districts followed suit.
“It’s very similar to what we saw in 2014 where the roadways will not have time to dry off before the moisture or precipitation on them refreezes,” Kemp said Monday. “And that’s when you have black ice, and that’s what causes wrecks, which causes gridlock and public safety issues, injuries.”
The potential for black ice was “the overriding concern” among emergency officials, said Homer Bryson, director of the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency.
Road crews sprayed liquid salt on north Georgia’s major interstates, state routes and overpasses, including routes that the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams must use to travel to and from practice venues. About 1,900 employees were on call and more than 420 pieces of snow removal equipment were ready, the Georgia Department of Transportation said in a statement.
Visiting Patriots fan Pamela Wales of Quincy, Massachusetts, said local television reminded her that Atlanta and ice don’t mix well.
“They were showing all kinds of pictures on TV from 2014 when everyone got stuck,” Wales said as she toured Super Bowl exhibits at the Georgia World Congress Center.
Sunday’s Super Bowl will be played in downtown Atlanta in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and officials have promised to open its roof if weather permits.
Tuesday’s changing weather posed the more immediate concern for elected officials who had to decide based on Monday’s forecasts whether to close offices and schools.
“It is often easy to pass judgment on how we in Georgia deal with snow and ice, but for those from the north what you do know is that an ice event is very different than a snow event,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Monday.
Past Super Bowl weeks have been marred by wintry weather. The week before Green Bay defeated Pittsburgh in 2011, ice coated the roads in Arlington, Texas, and tumbled from the roof of Cowboys Stadium, hurting six workers on the ground.
And in 2000, the St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans arrived in Atlanta shortly after an ice storm froze traffic. Both teams had to practice outdoors in the biting cold, since the Georgia Dome, later demolished, was being used for Super Bowl pregame and halftime rehearsals.
The Rams wore winter jackets and thermal underwear.
“It’s ridiculous,” Rams coach Dick Vermeil said at the time. “But there’s nothing you can do about it except try to survive.”
Associated Press Writer Ben Nadler contributed.