A White Christmas in Atlanta?

Snow on Tech Tower

December 20, 2018 | By Zoe Kafkes​

Today across the country, thousands of people are dreaming of a White Christmas. A blanket of snow is the perceived perfect accompaniment to any holiday tradition.

But what about in Atlanta? After last year’s winter weather, is anyone wishing for a White Christmas here in Georgia?

“It really is nice how it wraps the city in this pure white state of renewal, and the kids love it,” said Michael Dobbins, Professor of Practice for the School of City and Regional Planning.

Past the holiday cheer, and the reaction of children playing in the snow, what would happen if Atlanta had a white Christmas this year?

“Well first, past what people immediately think of, is more suffering for the homeless population,” said Dobbins.

Dobbins cited the closing of the homeless shelter at the intersection of Peachtree and Pine in December 2017 as a large part of this issue. “Without a shelter of last resort facility like that, people won’t have a place to go to get out of the cold,” said Dobbins.

Dobbins said holiday glitz and glamour often leaves the 25 percent of Atlanta residents living in varying conditions of poverty, quite literally out in the cold. It can be easy to forget that what might be a beautiful occasion for most, is a time of severe hardship for others.

For those traveling during the holidays, traffic and road conditions are another concern. Bruce Stiftel, Professor of City and Regional Planning noted that significant efforts have been taken since the major winter storm in 2014 that left hundreds of people stranded on the roads overnight.

“The way it happened back then was that almost every person with a vehicle in the city of Atlanta hit the roads at about the exact same time. The City has learned from that experience,” said Stiftel.

Dobbins noted, “Cities and local governments are getting better at planning for resilience in the face of changing weather.”

In the aftermath of the popularly nicknamed “Snowmageddon” or “Snowpocalypse” the City of Atlanta commissioned a group from the School of City and Regional Planning to analyze what happened and suggest direction future prevention. Since then, the City has acquired additional snowplows and brine trucks, attempting to keep roads treated, and has expanded coordination across departments.

This year, on December 11, Governor Nathan Deal delayed government operations and spurred the delayed start of several schools and businesses to avoid the potential for black ice on the road during the morning commute.

Actions like these will begin to become more commonplace, as cities strive to adjust to changing conditions. In fact, as the former Commissioner for the City of Atlanta Department of Planning, Development and Neighborhood Conservation, Dobbins recalled that during his six years from 1996-2002, there was never once a severe winter weather event. Last winter, Georgia Tech experienced three different closures due to snow and ice.

All summer there was talk about cities heating up, yet it appears that Atlanta is facing an extreme dip in the opposite direction.

Brian Stone, Professor of City and Regional Planning and Director of the Urban Climate Lab, said, “It is known that climate change can, counter intuitively, increase snowfall at times due to increased moisture in the atmosphere and other causes such as warmer ocean temperatures in the Atlantic.”

It’s possible. So, what exactly will happen if Atlanta sees a White Christmas this year?

No one can say for sure, but Stiftel raises an interesting point, “On Christmas, the city is already partially shut down. Businesses are closed, schools are not in session. Perhaps instead of disaster, for most it will simply be a fun day with snow.”