Snow is an unfamiliar enough sight for Metro Atlanta residents, but ice-skating Fords, Hondas and Chevrolets? That’s just plain out-there.
It turns out, sliding cars were just a few miles out there, a short jaunt from Newton County.
Tuesday afternoon, those cars sliding on the highways around Atlanta started a chain reaction, turning north central Georgia’s interstates into a parking lot. Area residents making the commute from jobs in Atlanta were stuck in arguably one of the worst traffic jams ever, according to national news services, and forced to sit in their cars for hours. Two inches of snow turned rush hour into anything but.
Newton County commuters couldn’t avoid the epic traffic jam.
Chris Owens, coming back from an installation job on Powers Ferry Road with JS Owens Corp., saw almost 11 hours pass before pulling his Chevrolet Silverado into Newton County. Covington resident Danyielle Reister and her husband, Rick, left her job in Buckhead at 8 p.m., and reached home safely at 11:06 p.m. For Reister’s co-worker, it was even worse: Her commute lasted through the night.
"She got off at 8 p.m. and lives in Gwinnett," Reister said. "She texted me when I was up making coffee at 8/8:30 a.m. (Wednesday) that she just got home.
"Luckily, I didn’t have to deal with any of that stuff. It was bad enough the four hours when I was in it."
Aerial photos of I-75, I-20 and other major arteries in the Atlanta area showed motorists stuck as their vehicles ran out of gas, or just abandoning those vehicles for the shelter of restaurants, stores and fire stations.
Rick Reister, who is from North Dakota, knew if he kept clear of the heavy-traffic areas he could make it through the two inches of powdery snow. He took the Covington couple on a route from Piedmont Road to Monroe (going three to five miles in 30 minutes), getting on I-20 from Monroe. The Reisters got on I-20 at 8:55, according to text messages by Danyielle, before getting stuck near the Flat Shoals Road exit at 9:02 p.m.
Cars blocked the highway. Some had spun sideways, and others were just parked by fed-up drivers.
While the Reisters were held up near Flat Shoals Road, the icy ground kept their car going.
"We were sitting and the car was sliding," Danyielle said. "Just sitting on the ice. It was weird."
While the Reisters were stuck on I-20, Owens was still trying to get himself and his crew home safely. His truck wasn’t sliding of its own volition, but Owens had issues of his own.
The first came as he was trying to get on I-75 from Powers Ferry Road, via a ramp that goes up a hill. Other drivers were trying to make the steep climb, when a woman five cars ahead of Owens put a stop to that.
"She got out of her car and went up to people telling them, ‘You have to turn right,’" Owens said.
Owens took the lady’s advice and circled around Powers Ferry Road onto I-285. There was another hill there, but Owens’ crew, which had been helping him install HVAC units, hopped out and helped push. Once going, it took 15 minutes to go two miles, and they finally got to the I-20 ramp at about 5:30 p.m. after getting on I-285 at around 1:45 p.m.
"There was an embankment, that you never notice when going 70 miles per hour, but the only way to get through it was to go on the grass," Owens said. "The problem was you couldn’t get over to that lane. We were in the outside lane and started sliding. We almost slid into the wall."
Owens slammed the brake to the floor, and kept the seemingly-inevitable crash from occurring.
"I physically had to put my brake on or slide all the way to the concrete."
After that, he got stuck, before his fellow commuters jumped out and chiseled some of the ice away from his tires. From there, it was all gas pedal.
"I gunned it, and must have balded (company owner) Jeff’s tires," Owens said. "I was going like 100 mph and maybe moving three inches."
That did the trick, and Owens got going on I-20 pretty good, until hitting Flat Shoals Road. He witnessed a large delivery truck spinning out, with people daring to pass the out-of-control truck. After the harrowing show, Owens settled in, and one of his passengers took the opportunity to step out of the car and tend to his smoking habit about every 15 minutes. He wasn’t alone, but there weren’t that many people venturing outside of their vehicles, either, as temperatures went below 20 degrees.
The experience for area commuters lasted hours, and it was a time they never hope to have to go through again.