Computers help battle weather

By Greg Gelpi and Ed Brock

Rhonda Travis braved Thursday's slushy weather to head to the library with an extra child or two in tow.

"I'm babysitting my friend's kids because the schools are closed," the Jonesboro woman said.

The dusting of snow shut down the Clayton County Public School system and a number of other offices, but a "skeleton crew" kept the system in check.

Tucked inside the system's maintenance building, workers used a computer to monitor more than 50 county schools and other facilities.

With the click of a button, Larry Anderson, the coordinating supervisor of facilities maintenance, showed how he monitors each classroom as well as every component of the heating and cooling systems instantly.

"Without this system we would have no way of knowing (conditions at schools)," he said.

Before the school system was computerized, crews and administrators checked each school and each air conditioning and heating unit in person, stretching resources and wasting time, Anderson said.

"No one has to be at school," Anderson said. "It could begin shutting the (heating and air conditioning) system down to prevent from damaging the equipment."

The school system also has a direct telephone line to Georgia Power in case of a power outage, although Anderson said the monitoring system alerts maintenance faster than does the power company.

Maintenance reported only minor problems Thursday. If problems occur, an alarm lets workers know immediately and automatically prints out a report.

While the school system maintenance staff worked in relative calm, not so for public safety officials.

From midnight to late Thursday afternoon there were about 90 traffic accidents, most of which were probably weather related and six of which resulted in injuries, Clayton County Police Capt. Jeff Turner said.

Apart from the accidents and some power outages the storm caused little damage throughout the county, Clayton County Emergency Management Training Coordinator Vacal Caldwell said.

"Most of the power outages were due to wind, not the ice," Caldwell said.

The winter storm also happened to strike during Georgia's Severe Weather Awareness Week, a fact that Caldwell said was certainly fitting.

"It lets us know that more things can interrupt our lives than just tornadoes and thunderstorms," Caldwell said. "Winter storms wreak just as much havoc as a super cell storm."

A statewide tornado drill that is would take place in the state's schools and participating businesses is set for today at 9:30 a.m.

The National Weather Service said there is no more snow in the immediate forecast. Less than an inch fell in Clayton County, forecaster Mike Leary said. The temperatures will be in the low 30s today and in the mid 40s tonight. A warming trend will continue through Sunday when temperatures are expected to be in the mid 60s.

Other parts of metro Atlanta got as many as 6 inches of snow and one death was blamed for the storm where a driver lost control and went down an embankment. There also were a number of problems with downed trees and power outages in the metro Atlanta area. On parts of the interstates further north, stretches were turned into parking lots, stranding motorists for hours.