Winter storm ‘Leon’ wreaks havoc across the U.S. Southeast

It may be cold up here in Canada this week, but this same chilly air spilling down from the Arctic has caused much bigger problems down south over the past 24 hours.

'Winter Storm Leon' didn't deliver any heavy snowfall amounts across the southeastern U.S., but the combination of snow, sleet and freezing rain that swept through on Tuesday brought roads and highways to the kind of standstill you'd only see in a zombie apocalypse. Commutes that took an hour or two, on a normal day of Atlanta's rush hour traffic, stretched into 6 hours ... 8 hours ... for some up to 12 hours of being stuck in traffic. Some people even abandoned their vehicle and continued on foot. Even with the hours it took to walk, it was simply preferable to staying stranded in their car for the whole time, and still being nowhere closer to home.

[ Related: Extreme chills across central Canada mean hazardous weather for US Southeast ]

It wasn't just the snow — although there is a tendency for even a few flakes of the white stuff hitting the roads there to significantly lengthen someone's commute time. It was that schools and businesses suddenly closed down around midday, shunting nearly the entire city's population onto the roads all at once. That would cause commuter chaos even in mid weather, but combine that with icy, slippery road surfaces, and you end up with scenes like these on city traffic cameras:

Videos captured by residents in the area highlighted some of the big problems with this kind of weather hitting these southern states — no snow tires:

It's not even just the little sports cars either:

Atlanta wasn't the only place that had it bad. This winter storm stretched from eastern Texas all the way to southern Virginia, impacting every state in between, and even coating the Florida panhandle in a layer of snow and ice by Wednesday morning. Louisiana apparently escaped relatively unscathed as many in the state decided to just stay home during the snowstorm. Hundreds of accidents were reported in Mississippi, along with numerous road closures and four people died in a mobile-home fire that was apparently caused by a faulty space heater. Motorists were stranded along Alabama highways, power was knocked out to some 16,000 people at one point, and over 5,000 students had to sleep in their schools overnight due to the storm. Georgia's woes are well documented above, and conditions were just as bad in the Carolinas, with the icy weather causing gridlock and power outages, and a few fatal accidents as well. Virginia seemed to get the worst of the snow, with around 10 inches (over 30 centimeters) falling near the coastline.

It wasn't all doom and gloom and disaster, though. The rare snowstorm brought University of Alabama students out for a mass snowball fight:

[ More Geekquinox: Storms and stars team up to wow us in beautiful time-lapse video ]

Any joking aside about how the south just can't handle winter, this wasn't a failure of forecasters, since the forecast was pretty bang-on and the National Weather Service had warnings in place well ahead of the storm's arrival, and it wasn't really the fault of the people who were caught out in it, as it was mainly a situation of extremely bad timing (and lack of snow tires, but would you buy them if you only had one snow day every few years?).

When it comes down to it, it was a failure on the part of the government to take the warnings seriously and prepare cities like Atlanta ahead of time. Al Roker sets the record straight in this video:

Now, there are even calls for Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to resign due to their failure, with a Facebook campaign starting up as of Wednesday.

Good luck to everyone impacted by the storm. Temperatures are climbing for the region going into the weekend, just as they are here in central Canada, but it will be a rough couple of days until then.

Geek out with the latest in science and weather.
Follow @ygeekquinox on Twitter!