Who's to Blame for the Atlanta Storm Chaos?

Weather forecasters fuming over governor's criticisms.

ByABC News
January 30, 2014, 3:58 AM

Jan. 30, 2014— -- Officials in Georgia are on the defensive, trying to explain why Atlanta was so ill-prepared for a snow storm that gridlocked highway traffic, leaving thousands of students stranded in schools and on buses, bringing out National Guardsmen and state troopers to help with rescue efforts.

The icy weather wreaked similar havoc across much of the South, closing schools and highways, grounding flights and contributing to at least a dozen deaths from traffic accidents and a mobile home fire.

Yet it was Atlanta, home to major corporations and the world's busiest airport, that was Exhibit A for how a Southern city could be sent reeling by winter weather that, in the North, might be no more than an inconvenience.

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Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal blamed weather forecasters, saying he was caught off-guard due to a changing forecast.

At one point, the only accumulating snow was expected to fall south of Atlanta.

“At that time, it was still, in most of the forecasts, anticipated that the city of Atlanta would only have a mild dusting or a very small accumulation if any,” Deal said at a Wednesday press conference. “Preparations were made for those predictions.”

Forecasters erupted following the comments. The National Weather Service argued that the appropriate outlooks, watches and warnings were released two days in advance.

J. Marshall Shepherd, president of the American Meteorological Society, addressed the topic on his blog, writing, “The buses had a tough time getting kids home, but meteorologists should not be thrown under the bus.”

Atlanta was devastated by a similar ice storm in 2011, and officials had vowed not to be caught unprepared again. But in this case, few closings or other measures were ordered ahead of time.

Deal said warnings could have been posted along highways earlier and farther out Tuesday. But he also fended off criticism.

"I would have acted sooner, and I think we learn from that and then we will act sooner the next time," Deal told reporters.

"But we don't want to be accused of crying wolf. Because if we had been wrong, y'all would have all been in here saying, 'Do you know how many millions of dollars you cost the economies of the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia by shutting down businesses all over this city and this state?'"

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Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed also faced criticism during a Wednesday interview with CNN's Carol Costello, who spent hours caught in the traffic backups.

When asked about residents’ disappointment at the storm preparations, Reed responded, “Well, I don’t feel that people are angry at me. I think that they have a great deal of frustration.”

Timing contributed to the situation. By the time word was getting out that all of Atlanta’s metro highways would certainly be covered in snow, families had already sent their children to school, and parents were on their way to work.

Additionally, many of the state’s plows and trucks were out of position, underprepared for such a stifling storm.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.