In the conquest of snow: Bad bureaucracy

In the spring of 2011, I was fortunate enough to vacation to the city of New Orleans and tour the rural swampland to the north of the city. There’s something unsettling about seeing capsized fishing boats lying in a river somewhere in the bayou, resting half in mud and half in murky water next to a dock. The dock leads up to a small trailer home with boarded windows and chipping paint.

It was six years after Hurricane Katrina and some parts of Louisiana hadn’t recovered fully yet, a testament to the unavoidable truth that for everybody else, Katrina is a forgotten disaster. All the while, weather trends are seemingly more severe than ever before. It seems that each month, some region of the United States achieves some weather related accolade.

The most recent instance that comes to mind is the two inches of snow that fell over the homes and freeways of the greater Atlanta area which virtually shut down the city. Children stayed in schools overnight. Daily commutes took upwards of ten hours. And yet, in both the cases of Katrina and Atlanta’s snowstorm, the real problems seemed to have been caused by bad bureaucracy rather than humanity’s time-tested endurance of wild weather.

An article published in Politico Magazine by Rebecca Burns highlighted the bureaucratic problems that prevented a response. Even a question as simple as “What is Atlanta?” got in the way of an effective response to the weather. Like Katrina, much of the potential havoc arose because of a bad bureaucracy.

Arguably, both the snowstorms in Atlanta and Hurricane Katrina were so crippling to the respective cities of Atlanta and New Orleans because of the poor response.

So why then did so many Midwesterners mock the people of Atlanta after being shocked by images of storm-ravaged New Orleans a decade ago? Perhaps it’s our conquest of the snow. Year after year, the Midwest perfects its handling of snow, whereas a mere two inches is an anomaly in Georgia. Our lives don’t stop when two inches of snow hits Appleton.

The annual economic damage that snow causes to the city is likely, in the long run, far less expensive than the cost of maintaining a fleet of plows and salt trucks. In short, Atlanta is completely helpless. Unlike New Orleans, which had already experienced hurricanes before, Northwest Georgia, where Atlanta is located, isn’t in the path of snowstorms or hurricanes. Atlanta is a perfect example of an impossible situation where it simply isn’t worth it to be prepared for wild weather. Is it worth it to mock the city of Atlanta for their floundering response to snow? Maybe, but the Atlanta snowstorm shows just how easily blindsided humans are by unexpected weather conditions.

Go ahead and laugh, but perhaps consider for a moment the broader implications of what both the responses to Hurricane Katrina and the Atlanta Snowstorms show us. America isn’t very good at responding to anomalous weather situations. Given how large and developed we are as a nation, it would be silly how easily manhandled we are by anomalous weather if it hadn’t been so historically destructive. Perhaps it’s part of a larger complex that industry alone can overpower the destructive power of nature itself, power that will only grow stronger with the inevitable onset of climate change.

Yes, maybe the bigger we are, the harder it is for us to get knocked over. In cases of extreme weather, though, we all too often forget that when we do get knocked over, we fall even harder.