A flake of snow had yet to hit the ground Monday, but Atlanta’s grocery stores were already packed with shoppers afraid of disaster.
Fruits and breakfast foods were popular. So were wines. One young man at a Sam’s Club commanded a shopping cart packed with at least eight cases of Bud Light and Corona beers.
“The water was basically all gone,” Amana Abdul-Jabbaar, 30, told the Los Angeles Times in a phone interview after visiting a Kroger in Sandy Springs, where lines were so long that it took 25 minutes to check out in the express lane. “There were a lot of people in the store like it was Armageddon; they were stocking up on absolutely everything.”
Abdul-Jabbaar laughed and added, “I think it’s funny because I’m from New York City, so I’m not used to this.”
If you are not afraid of a little ice and snow, you are probably not from Atlanta.
Schools began closing and Atlanta-area residents flooded grocery stores after Georgia’s governor declared a state of emergency for 45 counties facing another unusual Southern winter storm this week.
The reason for the extreme caution can be traced to the last time a couple of inches of snow fell on Atlanta -- less than two weeks ago. The city came to a near-standstill after an epic traffic jam stranded some drivers for longer than 24 hours.
That storm became an instant political fiasco for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who were accused of dragging their feet in alerting schools and drivers before a traffic snarl trapped children on buses or in schools and forced some drivers to sleep in their cars.
Those officials promised to be prepared if such a storm returned in the future. Now, they’re facing that possibility.
Monday night’s light snow was expected to be followed by a freezing rain Tuesday night that could knock out power and turn roads into icy ribbons, National Weather Service forecaster Nikole Listemaa told The Times.
How bad the ice could get was not yet certain, Listemaa said, but officials were not taking many chances. In Atlanta, snowplows and salt spreaders were ordered to be ready to go on duty at 6 p.m.
“Ice is the big danger here,” Deal told reporters on Monday morning, urging Georgians to be prepared. “We should all, individually, use extreme caution.”
That message resonated with Georgians who spent their Monday afternoons at grocery stores, stocking up out of fear that another bizarre winter disaster could strike.
“I don’t think a whole lot of snow is predicted, so this may not be a sensible reaction for somebody in New York. But for us, this is definitely in our reasonable zone,” Karen Louis, 42, of Roswell told The Times in a phone interview as she was about to head for the grocery store.
Two weeks ago, it took Louis 14 hours to drive home. “We feel completely justified in cleaning off the shelves because 1 to 3 inches is coming,” she said.
Kenisha Robertson, 36, of Sandy Springs was planning to keep her kids home even before Atlanta-area schools announced closures for Tuesday and Wednesday. (In the last storm, it took her more than 10 hours to make a drive that normally takes 15 minutes.) At her local Publix, Robertson fought the crowds to buy 4 gallons of water.
“The eggs were gone, bread, milk,” said Robertson, ticking off a list of what people were hunting for, which included vegetables and dog food. “The frozen pizza was gone!”
Allison Caroline Willingham, 24, of Decatur normally goes to the gym every single Monday during her lunch break. But this time, she decided to go to the grocery store to stock up, and there was already a line in the parking lot when she arrived.
What was expected to be a 30-minute grocery store visit -- to get bottled water, coconut water, lunchmeat and bread -- turned into an hour-and-a-half slog.
The Atlanta area, it seems, just can’t escape congestion.
“I’m sure everyone is laughing at us, and it is somewhat comedic,” Willingham said. “It’s just that Atlanta doesn’t have the tools and they’re not prepared to deal with anything, so that’s why it becomes an insane riot.”
Louis, of Roswell, also acknowledged that Atlanta might suffer another dent to its image with the coming storm -- that is, if the storm arrives at all.
“A lot of people have changed their approach this time; no one wants to get caught out in it,” Louis said. “Of course, Murphy’s Law, nothing will happen, and all of us will be sitting at home and we’ll be mad at ourselves when nothing happens, and we’ll be a laughing stock again.”