In a briefing late Tuesday night, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal deflected criticism for the traffic nightmare plaguing Metro Atlanta saying in part that the crippling weather was "unexpected" and that government officials made preparations based on forecasts that called for "the majority of the effects of the storm" to be "south of here."
"We have been confronted with an unexpected winter storm that has hit the metropolitan Atlanta area," the governor said.
But a timeline of winter storm watches, warnings, and advisories paints a different picture, one that shows that the governor and other government officials had nearly a day to prepare for significant impacts from Winter Storm Leon.
"The entire metro Atlanta area was under a winter storm watch early Monday morning, giving plenty of time to prepare for a worst-case scenario," said weather.com meteorologist Chris Dolce. "By late Monday afternoon and evening, confidence increased that significant snow would impact Atlanta and winter storm warnings (south metro) and winter weather advisories (north metro) were issued."
Despite Monday's warnings and advisories, the governor said that as of Tuesday at 10 a.m. "it was still in most of the forecasts anticipated that the city of Atlanta would only have a mild dusting or a very small accumulation, if any. And that the majority of the effects of the storm would be south of here. Preparations were made for those predictions."
Yet, at 3:38 a.m. Tuesday, more than 6 hours before governor Deal's timeline, the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning, indicating an even higher level of potential impact from Winter Storm Leon .
"Confidence increased more by early Tuesday morning that significant snow would affect Atlanta and winter storm warnings were posted for the entire metro area at 3:38 a.m," Dolce said.
Still, in the face of numerous watches, warnings, and advisories over a three-day span, Deal felt unprepared.
“There are certain things we don’t have control over and one of those is the weather. This came rather unexpectedly. The time frame in which it hit was a very short time frame."
At a Wednesday afternoon press conference, the governor remained standoffish regarding the timeline of potential impacts of Winter Storm Leon.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Deal were at an awards luncheon in downtown Atlanta at noon Tuesday when snow began falling.
Deal addressed criticism of the handling of the storm in an afternoon press conference, saying he responded to the winter storm based on forecasts from the National Weather Service, which he claimed weren't "as accurate" as some local television meteorologists.
The governor apologized to stranded Georgians who may have been left out in the cold due to his decisions, admitting that "obviously there were errors."
He said gridlock may have been prevented if state and local governments and schools staggered closings to avoid an unmanageable number of motorists hitting the roads simultaneously.
"There's not anybody in this room who could have predicted to the degree and magnitude the problem that developed," the governor said, adding that the snow came "at a little higher quantity" than many expected.
Deal said that had he ordered a shutdown in advance of the storm he would have been lambasted for "crying wolf."
"We will act sooner next time," Deal told reporters. "But we don't want to be accused of crying wolf because if we'd been wrong, you'd all been in here saying, 'Do you know how many millions of dollars you cost the city of Atlanta and Georgia by shutting down businesses in the state?' "
See the full timeline of watches, warnings, and advisories below for a clearer picture of the events leading up to Tuesday's significant impacts.
Sunday 3:12 p.m.
- First winter storm watch issued for Tuesday morning through Wednesday afternoon.
- Includes south metro Atlanta counties Fayette, Coweta, Clayton, Henry, Rockdale into central Georgia.
- Impacts: Snow accumulations of two or more inches. Sleet accumulations of a half inch or more.
Monday 4:54 a.m.
- Winter storm watch now includes much of north and south metro Atlanta for Tuesday morning through Wednesday afternoon.
- Impacts: Snow accumulations of 1/2 to 2 inches. Snow-covered roads could make travel difficult.
Monday 3:22 p.m.
- Winter storm watch upgraded to a winter storm warning for south metro Atlanta into central Georgia. Winter storm watch remains posted for north metro Atlanta for Tuesday morning through Wednesday afternoon.
- Impacts: Snow accumulations of 1 to 2 inches with locally higher amounts. Sleet accumulations around a half inch. Snow and ice covered roads will make travel difficult or impossible.
Monday 9:36 p.m.
- Winter storm watch changed to a winter weather advisory for north metro Atlanta for Tuesday morning through Wednesday morning.
- National weather service notes: Please understand that even a slight shift in the moisture could result in significant differences in snow amounts and may require an upgrade to warning.
Tuesday 3:38 a.m.
- All metro Atlanta under a winter storm warning starting 9 a.m. Tuesday
- Impacts: 1 to 2 inches of snow. Snow expected to begin mid-morning and last into Tuesday night. Snow-covered roads will make for hazardous driving conditions through Wednesday morning.
MORE: Winter Storm Leon's Wrath
Snow covers the grounds at Talladega Superspeedway Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, in Talladega, Ala. (AP Photo/David Tulis)