The signs flashed late Wednesday and into early Thursday, but the National Weather Service had issued no such watch.
“In our desire to proactively inform the traveling public of potential hazardous road conditions, we overreacted to a weather statement from the National Weather Service and incorrectly posted watch and warning messages on our overhead message signs,” the Georgia Department of Transportation said in a statement. “We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.”
National Weather Service forecasters had called state officials early Thursday to alert them to the error.
“We don’t know why that happened,” said Brian Lynn, a meteorologist at the weather service’s metro Atlanta office in Peachtree City, Ga.
The large overhead message boards, seen by the millions of motorists who commute into and out of Atlanta, alert drivers to delays, wrecks and potential hazards.
A spokeswoman with the state transportation agency, Natalie Dale, said the boards typically display the words “watch” or “warning” only after the weather service has issued such an alert for an area. The department gets the information from the weather service through public sources, she said.
The Department of Transportation is developing additional guidelines for posting weather information on the message boards and other communication tools, including social media, Dale said.
Gov. Nathan Deal was among state and local leaders heavily criticized for the government’s response to two inches of snow last week that led to gridlocked roads in metro Atlanta. Some people were stuck in their cars overnight along highways or abandoned them.
On Monday, the governor vowed to improve storm response and announced several changes in how the state communicates with Georgians before storms strike. Those reforms did not specifically address how weather information is conveyed on the freeway signs.