Douglas County got hit with an unusual and historic early December snowstorm Friday and Saturday that left thousands without power, delayed school children getting home and created hazardous conditions on many local roads.
Jason Milhollin, the county’s emergency management agency director, said as much as 10 inches of snow fell on parts of the county between Friday and Saturday mornings.
Douglas, Carroll, Haralson, Paulding and Cobb counties got more snow than the rest of the metro area, according to Ryan Willis, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Willis said the NWS’ closest tracking station to Douglasville is in Dallas in Paulding County. The NWS has data at the Dallas station going back 70 years to 1947.
The storm that hit Friday and Saturday ranks as the second highest snow total in that 70 years, with the 17.5 inches from the Blizzard of 1993 the only storm to dump more snow on the area.
This year’s storm is the only storm in the top 10 snowfall amounts that occurred in December. The other nine highest snowfall totals in the area all occurred between January and April.
“It’d be an incredible amount in January or February don’t get me wrong, but ... to have that much in December, that’s crazy,” Milhollin said.
Milhollin said there were around 9,000 people in the county without power as of Saturday night. Power outages were the major impact on most of the county’s citizens.
The Douglasville Police Department and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office reported responding to several weather-related traffic accidents Friday and Saturday, but officials said that none of the accidents involved life-threatening injuries.
Milhollin said trees falling on power lines was a major reason for the outages. He said he had nothing but respect for the linemen working to get power back on.
“They’re having to get to live safety issues before they get to the neighborhood issues,” Milhollin said. “It’s just one of those things where unfortunately it’s just the way it works — if you’ve got a neighborhood without power, but you’ve got one that’s sparking and arcing or something on fire or a road blocked or something like that, they’ve got to prioritize and try to get the power back on. It’s just hard for them to get ahead. Every time they start to make headway another tree will fall down on a power line.”
Milhollin said the Douglas County Department of Transportation had some crews that worked close to 24 hours straight trying to keep major roads clear of snow and ice and downed trees.
Secondary roads like those in subdivisions were still a concern Saturday, according to Douglas County Sheriff’s Capt. Jamie Harrell.
With temperatures dropping into the 20s Saturday night, black ice remained a concern going into Sunday.
“The primary roads are all fairly good, the secondary roads are a disaster,” Harrell said Saturday afternoon. “They refroze over (Friday) night and a lof the accidents and a lot of the problems we’re having right now are on the secondary roads. We just ask for people to as much as possible stay off the roadways. If you do have to be out and driving, please use caution, reduce speed and pay very close attention.”
Harrell said the sheriff’s office handles 100 to 110 calls on a typical day and responded to 229 on Friday with the vast majority involving accidents related to the weather.
Milhollin said that another issue officials were dealing with was abandoned cars in ditches, which he said were still visible around the county Saturday evening.
Douglasville Police Maj. J.R. Davidson said there were initially some traffic backups on the major roads in the county as things started to get bad around noon Friday. Highway 5 was backed up from Interstate 20 to Bill Arp in both directions in the early afternoon hours.
Friday night, both Davidson and Harrell reported having law enforcement officers in four-wheel drive vehicles going to pick up night shift personnel and helping any stranded motorists they could.
The Douglas County School System, like most school systems in the area, made the call Thursday night to go forward with school during regular hours Friday.
As the snow started to hit hard Friday morning, the decision was made to release middle and high school students at noon and elementary students at 1 p.m.
By 1:15 p.m. Friday, Portia Lake, spokeswoman for the school system, had sent out a video from a student on a bus that was struggling to get up a snow-covered hill.
“We are using all of our resources, including chains to free the Douglas County school buses that are stuck,” Lake reported at the time. “Elementary students are being held at school until it is safe for them to return home.”
Many parents were reminded of the 2014 snowstorm that left roughly 700 students stranded overnight at local schools.
But by 4:15 Friday there were five buses with eight students on board still on the road, and by 5:45 p.m. Friday all students had gotten home safely.
“Monday, we will revisit protocol and reassess today's decisions,” Lake said. “These decisions will guide us in how we respond to severe weather in the future.”
Frances McMillan, animal services director for the county, said Saturday the animal shelter was staffed but did not open to the public and that animal control officers were responding to emergencies. She said animal control had a higher call volume than usual and that they had picked up a lot of lost and found animals.
County spokesman Rick Martin reported that the E-911 Center received a total number of 2,081 calls from Friday around 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
“We received a variety of calls,” Martin said. “Some were emergencies and some were not emergencies. These calls ranged from people wanting to report their power out to people requiring immediate medical care.”
Martin added: “We appreciate the public’s input on social media because it helped us with situational awareness. We found great value with the public sharing the impact of weather on social media to help us respond.”
Milhollin commended everyone involved in responding to the storm.
“We appreciate all the hard work from our first responders, Douglas County Fire and Rescue, E-911 Operations Center, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Douglasville Police Department, Department of Transportation, utility companies, GreyStone Power Corporation and Georgia Power, City of Douglasville Maintenance Department, Douglas County Fleet Management, “ Milhollin said. “This winter storm taxed our resources to its limits.”