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Lack of snow and ice so far this winter has DOT smiling
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Looking down Washington Street on Thursday. - photo by Tom Reed

Enjoying the mild winter? So is the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Winter is still young, but so far, the agency has spent no money on salt, stone or employee hours to prepare for or clean up after snow and ice, said Teri Pope, spokeswoman for the DOT’s District 1.

“We are thankful for that,” Pope said.

District 1 makes up Northeast Georgia — a mountainous region that often catches the brunt of snow and ice in Georgia, when it does happen.

Winter is just a few weeks old, but frigid temperatures and icy stuff are known to strike the area in late November and early December.

The past month or so has seen some bone-chilling days and some flurries, but not much else.

“We’re still in a progressive pattern in the upper atmosphere, meaning things are still moving along pretty good and systems aren’t stalling out right on top of us very long,” said Bill Murphey, state climatologist.

Georgia also is in a “neutral” pattern, meaning it’s not contending with El Niño or La Niña, which can bring wild swings in weather, such as heavier rain than normal.

The area has picked up bouts of rain in recent weeks, but they’re usually followed by periods of dryness.

The region could be in for a soggy next few days, according to the National Weather Service in Peachtree City.

But, in addition to an umbrella, get out the short sleeves — high temperatures could top 70 degrees, particularly on Saturday.

Last winter in Georgia also was mild.

The DOT spent 172 hours on bad weather preparations, including putting down 40 tons of stone and 20 tons of salt. The total cost: $48,490.

Those might sound like gaudy numbers, but they’re nothing compared to the 2011 winter: 27,950 hours, 5,591 tons of stone and 11,298 tons of salt for a total cost of $2.6 million.

A storm on Jan. 10, 2011, brought snow and ice to most of North Georgia, including metro Atlanta, paralyzing travel and business, school and government operations for nearly a week.

The DOT came under fire for not responding as well as it should, prompting some changes in future operations.

Local governments also were caught off guard and took longer looks at their weather response procedures.

Funding for weather preparations, as well as cleanup, comes out of the DOT’s maintenance money.

“It is so intermittent an occurrence, it isn’t practical to make it a line item in the budget each year,” said DOT spokesman David Spear.

“If we have a huge expense year, we move additional money from other programs into maintenance to help cover it.”

Georgia has many weeks to go before spring and warmer weather, Murphey cautions.

“I think it’s possible, in this active pattern, to have a shot at a lot colder temperatures this winter, before it’s all said and done,” he said.

Combine that with the right kind of moisture, and snow may fall.

“Usually, what’s been happening with these systems is we’ll get the big shot of cold air as the moisture is leaving,” Murphey said.

“Normally, our best shot (at snow or ice) is if the cold air is in place ... and then the moisture cranks up as the cold air is departing.”

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