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Georgia governor aims to avoid repeat of snowy nightmare

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(CNN) — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has named a 32-member “severe weather warning and preparedness task force” that will recommend how the state can better respond to storms like the one that paralyzed Atlanta last week.

Deal came under fire for his slow reaction to the storm that dropped 2.6 inches of snow on the Atlanta area that seemed to catch authorities off guard. The exodus of drivers from Atlanta clogged the highways, stranding thousands of students in schools and forcing numerous commuters to spend extra hours inside their cars on icy roads.

The governor apologized to the public and promised to handle things differently next time. “I’m the governor, the buck stops with me,” he said.

The task force, composed of four local television meteorologists, other experts and school and state agency leaders, will meet in public and report to the governor 60 days after its first meeting, which has yet to be scheduled. State agency heads are scheduled to deliver an internal report to Deal in 10 days, the governor’s office said.

Other changes will happen right away.

“Effective immediately, a storm warning will trigger a message to cell phones in targeted areas, as in the Amber Alert system, and advise against road travel,” Deal said Monday. “We will go one step further with school superintendents by emailing them weather condition updates, so that they have the most up-to-date information when determining whether to close schools.”

The state also will overhaul its “state emergency app,” which will now include information such as alternative traffic routes and shelter locations, he said.

On January 28, as the storm approached, people working in Atlanta started driving home to the suburbs. A massive traffic jam gripped the city, leading to commutes of more than 20 hours for countless motorists.

More than 2,000 cars were abandoned on roadsides. Some employees spent the night at their workplaces, and commuters gave up trying to get home and slept in emergency shelters or even on the floors of roadside businesses. Students who weren’t picked up by buses or their parents slept in their schools.

Reaction was swift. The public lashed out at Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed for not acting quickly enough. Journalists sharply questioned Deal and Reed. “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” mocked Georgia and Atlanta.

Reed, who works closely with Deal, also said he’ll respond more aggressively when bad weather strikes.

“We’re going to be as prepared as we can to be ready for the next storm,” Deal told reporters.

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