ATLANTA — Light snow was falling when Samantha Avers left Duluth, a northeast Atlanta suburb, on Tuesday afternoon. She figured she would be home quickly, for it was only a 30- to 45-minute drive.
Twenty-two hours later, Avers, an account manager who had just moved to balmy Atlanta from northern Virginia, wearily parked in her Smyrna neighborhood Wednesday morning. She had been stranded in hellish snowstorm traffic, napped in her car in the middle of a freeway, eaten fruit from her Superman lunch box, watched "Private Practice" on her iPad and drank a gas station beer from a coffee cup.
Hers was just one of the horror stories from the great Atlanta snow-out of 2014.
Forecasters had warned of a freak Southern snowstorm, but schools and offices remained open Tuesday. Mass chaos and gridlock ensued when offices closed early and an exodus of midday commuters headed home.
Less than 3 inches of snow brought the city to a freezing halt. Children camped out in schools or on buses. Hundreds of motorists were marooned for hours on highways and onramps; some abandoned their cars and walked home through the snow. Workers spent the night in their offices.
One woman delivered a baby inside a car stuck on a frozen highway, aided by her husband and a police officer. She named the girl Grace.
Georgia National Guard troops delivered military meals and water to stranded motorists. Other troops and police rescued children from schools and delivered them to firehouses and other sanctuaries. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said all students made it home safely by Wednesday.
But another hard freeze was predicted overnight.
On social media, parents and commuters scolded school and city officials, as well as Georgia's governor and Atlanta's mayor, for not shutting things down ahead of the storm.
"I want heads [to roll] tomorrow," one parent posted on the Facebook page of the DeKalb County School District in Georgia. He complained that his wife still had not returned home by midnight after fighting her way through snow and traffic to try to retrieve the couple's child from school.
"Horrible horrible horrible horrible job," another parent wrote.
Atlanta city officials had assured the public that they had learned the harsh lessons of a 2011 ice storm that paralyzed the city. "Atlanta, we are ready for the snow," Mayor Kasim Reed posted on his Twitter account Tuesday.
But by Wednesday morning, Reed's tweets sought to reassure angry residents that the city was working hard to plow roads and get everyone home: "We know you want to get home, and we are going to work all day until you can return safely."
The National Weather Service reported that 2.6 inches of snow fell at Atlanta's international airport — a ho-hum January day for the Northeast or Midwest, but a disaster in a region that is unaccustomed to snow. Like many Southern cities, Atlanta lacks the equipment, expertise and experience to quickly clear snow-clogged streets and highways.
Deal did not declare a state of emergency until Tuesday afternoon, when traffic snarls had already developed. Governors in North and South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama also declared states of emergency, though snowfalls were generally lower than predicted there and in many parts of the South.
In Georgia, Deal and Reed stood side by side Wednesday to take shared responsibility, but also to defend their response.
"We made a mistake by not staggering when people should leave," Reed said at a morning news conference.
"I'm willing to take whatever blame comes my way," agreed Deal, who is up for reelection this fall. "Obviously there were errors."
But the governor argued that if the state had advised businesses and government to shut down earlier — or not opened at all, as now seems prudent — critics would have complained if the storm had fallen short.