Frozen Without a Plan: A Mom, 3 Kids, and the Atlanta Ice Storm

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Tree Lined-up Snowplows Removing the Swno the Highway on a Cold Snowy Winter Day

Check your lists. Make sure you’re ready for winter weather.

It was 4 p.m. on a Tuesday in January, and Kelly had been on the road for four hours. She was only a few miles from work, but many miles from home. Her rearview mirror showed a backseat full of children – 5-year-old Savannah, and her 9-month-old twins Caden and Kylie.

She had left work at noon, the time when most Georgians got on the road at the start of a winter storm in the Atlanta metro area. Kelly, a kindergarten teacher at the same school her children attended, had quickly loaded her kids into the car and hit the road for home.

photo of television screen showing news coverage of Atlanta snowstormWhere they sat.

And sat.

And sat.

Kelly’s mind raced – they were nowhere near home. The twins would be hungry soon and she only had one bottle for each child. She only had two diapers left and both were overdue for a diaper change. But she knew her children could not see her fear.

Instead, she and Savannah played “Frozen” – pretending Elsa was freezing the road around them and singing “Let it Go” on repeat. The twins woke up from their afternoon nap and played along with “oohs” and “ahhhs.”

As the hours passed, the trip began to get scarier. Cars slid out of control on the icy road, some off the road and some into each other. More than once, Kelly gripped the wheel as a car got dangerously close to her family’s car.

map of Atlanta traffic during the 2014 snowstorm
More than three hours into her drive and Kelly still faced a series of “red” roads. Image: Google Maps

“Why is that lady crying?” asked Savannah. “Are we going to get stuck?” She and Kelly talked about snow, ice, and how scary things can happen.

“When scary things happen, we try to help other people,” Kelly told her daughter as they began a new game of looking for people helping each other. They didn’t have to look far. Commuters helped push stuck cars off the road.

Around 9 p.m., Kelly turned on to a residential street to find people walking with wagons full of supplies, handing bottles of water and packages of food to the stranded motorists. Several offered her and her children a place to stay, as did friends of friends who were following her on Facebook. Kelly declined the offers. They were still making progress. Her children had dozed off and she was focused on getting them home to fresh diapers and more baby food.

At 10:30 p.m. she made it to the final bridge before home. She was the next car in line to cross the bridge when a police officer stopped her. They had closed the bridge. A truck trying to pass had slipped back and hit cars. The bridge was not safe.

She asked him for advice on how she could get home. “He looked at me with the saddest look and said ‘I’m sorry ma’am. You’re not getting home tonight,’” Kelly remembered.

A Night on the Road

Kelly’s husband, Jon, began calling hotels. Every single hotel was booked, even their lobbies were full of people. Around 2 a.m. Kelly pulled into a parking lot and let Savannah come to the front seat to sleep on her lap.

Savannah, Caden, and Kylie enjoy breakfast after their night sleeping in the car.
Savannah, Caden, and Kylie enjoy breakfast after their night sleeping in the car.

Kelly wished away the minutes, texting with her husband. Her full tank of gas allowed her to keep the heat running and her phone charged. “I kept worrying the babies would wake up hungry or needing a new diaper,” said Kelly. “I’m so grateful they slept and stayed calm – and didn’t poop!”

Staying positive and making the situation into a learning experience for her daughter helped them get through the night. “I almost lost it a couple of times,” remembered Kelly. “I felt the tears coming on, but I just looked at my children and kept trucking.”

An Extra Special Breakfast and a Shopping Spree

Around 5 a.m. the babies began to wake and Kelly knew she needed to get them somewhere with fresh diapers and food. She spied an open breakfast restaurant. She carried two car seats inside, where the whole family devoured pancakes.

With diapers as the next priority, she found a grocery store with its lights on. A lobby full of stranded motorists waved her inside. “The store manager, had pastries, juice, and water out for everyone,” she shared. “I asked him if I could please buy diapers for the babies. He said the registers were closed and he couldn’t sell anything, but instead took me to the baby aisle and told me to get whatever I needed.”

Home at Last

Savannah, Caden, and Kylie play in the snow after they arrived home.
Savannah, Caden, and Kylie play in the snow after they arrived home.

Police and her husband arrived around 7:30 in the morning, sharing news that the bridge had reopened. The family got in his car and drove the last few miles home.

Getting ready for bed the next night, safely at home in their warm house, Savannah asked “Can we sleep in the car again?”

“Not tonight,” said her mommy. “We’re not sleeping in the car tonight.”

Lessons Learned

“The most important thing is to be prepared,” said Kelly. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

A full tank of gas and a car phone charger were game changing supplies. They kept the family warm and connected. Kelly and Jon now stock their cars with a big bag holding three changes of clothes, water bottles, snacks, diapers, and wipes. The first of every month, Kelly cycles out the food, replacing snacks and updating clothes for the weather. “The little bit of time is worth every second for my peace of mind,” says Kelly.

Remember, an emergency can happen anywhere. Make sure you are prepared at home and on the go. For more family stories, visit our Caring for Children in Disasters portal.

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6 comments on “Frozen Without a Plan: A Mom, 3 Kids, and the Atlanta Ice Storm”

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    Having a blanket or two in the car is great, as well as some crayons, paper, books, cards, etc. This will keep people occupied when stuck. Hope to never be in this situation, but you never know when your car might break down, road closure, weather, etc. Be safe, be prepared!

    Being prepared for any disastrous situation is very important, especially for instances such as this situation. Having a full tank of gas and a cell phone charger is very important in order to use the heat or ac in whatever weather condition and also to keep an open line of contact. There should also be a case of water in your car to keep your self and your family members well hydrated. In the colder seasons, pack some blankets in the car to ensure that everyone will have other sources for warmth. Remember always be prepared for any situation!

    This store owner and others who were walking giving out water are examples of caring for others regardless of the circumstances. He would lose money by not selling the diapers and wipes but helping someone in need outweighed financial gain. Nurses assist others all the time sometimes putting their needs on the back burner: missing lunch, holding their urine, not remaining hydrated in other to care for someone else. The community assisting each other is what nurses do all the time: help those in need.

    As a student nurse, I believe it is important to educate the community on safety/preparedness for disasters such as this one. People need to be informed of situations like Kelly’s of being stranded in a car during an ice storm, especially under special circumstances such as having children as your passengers or even an elderly person on oxygen. Plans need to be established for all types of disasters for the area you live in. For the east coast, hurricanes should be taken into consideration. For the west coast, earthquakes need to be prepared for. A plan should be in place even if the disaster doesn’t normally occur in the area lived in, like Kelly’s ice storm story. How often does it snow in Atlanta?! Even acts of terrorism should be included, as this can be an unplanned disaster, and family plans should be in place. I believe that Kelly was in her right mind when she began to have a disaster kit in her car for any future, unplanned disasters.

    Developing a plan of action is extremely important, especially with children. Food/water, clothing/diapers, some things for entertainment, and a secure means of communication should all be in place. Extra container of gas, blankets, first aid kit are some extra things that people can have aside also. It ended being a very fortunate situation. Reading your blog and feeling the anxiety of whether you were going to make it home or not has really opened my eyes to be prepared. Have a plan for certain circumstances and extra necessities if anything was to develop. Preparedness is key to effectively manage a stressful and out of control situation.

    If you plan on going out anywhere you need to have an emergency survival kit in your vehicle. you need to have a list of supplies such as:
    1. emergency blankets
    2. extra batteries and a flash light
    3. road side flares
    4. non perishable foods
    5. water
    6. medicine
    7. jumper cables
    8. battery operated radio
    9. socks
    10. coats
    11. emergency phone
    and any other items you may think that will come in handy.

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Page last reviewed: December 4, 2015
Page last updated: December 4, 2015