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Icy Georgian Roads; What do Weather-Unprepared Cities Cost Us?; How to Survive an Avalanche; Mike Rowe Faces Walmart Ad Backlash; Shaun White Fails to Medal in Sochi

Aired February 12, 2014 - 1030   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: That snow and freezing rain has been falling all morning too in other parts of the southeast. Streets covered in ice. Officials are urging people to stay home so emergency crews can clear the roads. George Howell was driving around Atlanta this morning. Good morning.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, good morning. So to the north, we're getting snow accumulations. To the south, it's that freezing rain. The concern for ice and here in the city of Atlanta, right now, we're seeing the sleet come down less than we've seen earlier in the morning but it is still coming down.

I want to show you the situation right now on the roads really so we can switch you over. It is a slushy mess right now. But no one is on the roads. And when you think about the timing of this last time about two weeks ago, we saw a storm basically affect people, caught people off guard right before they started to head home. Millions of people were caught on the roads in that situation.

This time, the storm came in overnight. There was a lot of preparation, unlike last time. And people were told to stay home. And that's exactly what they did. So right now, we're watching as the sleet continues to come down here in the city. And the concern is this is a multi-day event as layer upon layer basically starts to ice over, especially on trees and especially on power lines. We will see more of those trees and power lines come down.

Again, carol, it's one of those things where if you don't have to be on the road, it's best not to be. And what we're seeing are very few people who are on the roads here in Atlanta.

COSTELLO: Few people. I'm seeing no one. The interesting thing schools have been closed in the greater Atlanta area since Monday. They are going to be closed again tomorrow. So Georgia and the city of Atlanta taking absolutely no chances with this storm.

George Howell -- thanks so much.

Indra Petersons has a look at travel delays and where this storm is heading next. Good morning.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hello and good morning. You saw it yourself Carol; you are looking at now the ice there in Atlanta. So unfortunately freezing rain is still out there.

Sean, our weather producer, sent this in for us this morning. And the problem is this ice storm is still ongoing, plenty of flights are canceled. Why are we so concerned with ice? Remember, guys. You are talking about a quarter of an inch or a half of an inch of ice. So many people are saying, what is the big deal? There is way more snow.

It is the ice that takes down the power lines it's also what inundates those roads with those black ice and makes driving conditions impassable. So right now you seeing still a lot of rain to the south so that's the transition over still seeing freezing rain right now in towards Atlanta and even through portions of South Carolina, I should say.

Here is the problem. You saw that first wave yesterday. It is only about a quarter of an inch. Here comes the second wave. We have the potential for a catastrophic ice storm. We're talking about potential of a half an inch or even upwards to an inch of ice out there. That could bring power lines down for weeks at a time. Let's hope we don't get there.

But unfortunately it looks like that ice storm currently is underway. And it's just one part of the system. First, we had the icing in the southeast but then we have the snowmaker. What we are going to be watching is a lull kind of cruising up along the coastline. And with that we could see places around D.C. seeing more snow than they saw even four years ago.

So we're definitely have to be monitoring how much snow we're going to get based on the position of the low itself. What are we tracking right now, where is that cold air, how far south it goes? A lot of times you'll see rain, then you'll see some ice, you'll see some sleet, some snow. And you kind of transition between the two because it's only a couple of degrees of a difference that can really change the type of precipitation you get out there.

Either way southeast still looking for the icing throughout the day today. Then as we go through the overnight tonight in through tomorrow, we start tracking this guy, the low, as it makes its way up the coastline. Again we're going to watch exactly (inaudible) of it because exactly where it goes closer to the coastline itself, heavier snow to the coastline is a little bit farther inland. We'll see those heavier snow amounts farther in. And as Wednesday night in through Thursday still a lot to track and unfortunately a lot of dangerous conditions are still out there -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes at least we're not dealing with it alone we have plenty of company.

PETERSONS: About 80 million of us right.

COSTELLO: Yes Indra Petersons many thanks to you.

I'll be back with much more in the NEWSROOM after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COSTELLO: All these brutal winter storms and frigid temperatures are taking a toll and it isn't cheap. So right now a senate committee is looking into just how much it costs when cities and states and the federal government are not prepared for severe weather events.

CNN's Athena Jones is live in Washington covering this for us. Good morning.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Carol. We all know that big storms like this snowstorm that's moving through the southeast and heading our way towards the East Coast and mid-Atlantic and other storms like Superstorm Sandy, floods, droughts, these extreme weather events can cost people's lives and they can also cost a lot of money. The government's National Climatic Data Center said that last year there were seven extreme weather events that cost 100 lives and more than $1 billion each.

And so today, in this hearing that's already underway, we are going to be hearing from homeland security officials, from state government officials, from private industry officials, like the insurance sector, talking about the cost to communities of not being prepared. And looking at the ways -- ways that the government can help these communities become more resilient and be better prepared for storms like this.

We expect it to be a lot of focus on climate change. They are not going to delve deeply into this date on climate change, there is a lot of disagreement about what's causing these extreme weather patterns. But they really want to talk about how much it cost when communities and individuals are not prepared for extreme weather events like this. And we've already heard at least one mention of this coming storm. That's from the chairman of this Homeland Security Committee, Tom Carper, from Delaware -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Athena Jones, reporting live for us from Washington. Thank you.

Checking other "Top Stories" this morning at 38 minutes past the hour. Tom Brokaw has revealed he has multiple myeloma, that's a cancer affecting blood cells in the bone marrow. NBC News making the announcement saying doctors are optimistic about Brokaw's treatment. For his part, Brokaw told his former employer that he remains quote, "The luckiest guy I know."

This week, at least six people have been killed in avalanches in the United States. On Monday, a Colorado man was skiing with friends when he was swept away by an avalanche just outside Keystone's ski resort. Rescuers found his body the next morning.

And in Utah, a student from BYU was buried by an avalanche Sunday while snowshoeing. She was eventually rescued but she later died.

On average, nearly 30 people are killed in avalanches every year. So what can you do to survive if you are caught up in one? Gary Tuchman takes a look.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A back country ski outing in Switzerland that is about to turn into a horrifying experience. Christopher Carlson (ph), who was wearing a helmet cam, came very close to documenting his own death. It's an avalanche. He is buried about five feet under the snow, unable to move.

Carlson is hoping the skiers he was with find him before he suffocates. And they do. He is a very lucky man. On the average, in the U.S., 28 people die each year from avalanches often with hundreds of tons of snow plummeting down the mountain. I ski at Colorado's Copper Mountain with one of the top avalanche experts in the United States.

(on camera): How are the conditions?


TUCHMAN: Ethan Green is the director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. His state agency's responsibility in part -- to forecast the probability of avalanches.

GREEN: This is May Flower gulch.

TUCHMAN: And he takes me away from the resort and into the back country where most avalanches occur to learn about the three essentials for back country skiers.

GREEN: Beacon, probe and shovel.

TUCHMAN: Beacon, probe, shovel.

GREEN: That's right.

TUCHMAN: Those are the three things you have to have with you.

GREEN: That's right.

TUCHMAN: The beacon. We all put on one of there and turn them on so they are transmitting. They are signaling out a signal. And then later in the day, if you get buried in an avalanche I will be able to set mine to receive, pick up your signal and locate you.

TUCHMAN: The probe and the shovel.

GREEN: Yes this is a three-meter probe pole. So what this allows me to do, is once I get your general location with the beacon, I can pinpoint you with this probe and then use the shovel to dig down to the tip.

TUCHMAN: There is also this fourth item that can keep you above the rampaging snow threatening to bury you, the air bag pack. We dug a three-foot deep hole in the snow to simulate where an avalanche victim might be trapped. Our plan, to send Ethan Green up the mountain with his beacon in receive mode to try to pick up my signal from a hole where I will wait for a rescue.

Our producer, Chris Liable, puts the finishing touches on my snow cave and I wait in the dark underground.

OK as I am turning on to receive. No signal right away. But quickly --

GREEN: Got a signal.

TUCHMAN: It tells him how close he is getting.

GREEN: 16 meters, 13 meters.

TUCHMAN: The beacon works like a charm.

GREEN: OK I'm less than a meter. I have a strike.

TUCHMAN: Wow. That was quite unsettling under there.

I'm glad your beacon worked.

GREEN: Me too.

TUCHMAN: Thanks.


TUCHMAN: Of course, I was always safe in my controlled environment. In real life a victim sometimes doesn't even have a chance in a huge avalanche.

GREEN: It's so dense that you're not going to be able to dig yourself out. Sometimes you can't even expand your lungs to breath.

TUCHMAN: But if you are alive after the snow stops moving, having the right equipment can mean the difference between life and death -- just like it did for Christopher Carlson.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Copper Mountain, Colorado.


COSTELLO: Gary Tuchman is a brave man. I don't know if I could have done that.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, from beloved to berated Mike Rowe faces an online firestorm after voicing an ad for Walmart. We'll talk about the controversy -- next.


COSTELLO: Let's talk about Mike Rowe. You know him as the guy who hosts "Dirty Jobs" and some of those Ford commercials and the hat and the flannel shirt. But over the years Mike Rowe has become more than just a pitch man, he's become a symbol for the American worker, someone who stands up for the little guy, beloved by his hundreds of thousands of Facebook followers until he voiced this ad for Walmart.


MIKE ROWE, TV HOST: At one time, I made things, I opened my doors to all and together we filled pallets and trucks. I was mighty and then one day, the gears stopped turning. But I'm still here. And I believe I will rise again.


COSTELLO: You see Walmart pops up there at the end. Well, this ad sparked an incredible backlash on Rowe's Facebook page. Fans called him a sellout and a traitor. This post on Rowe's Facebook page pretty much sums up what people are saying.

Quote, "It is hypocrisy. Walmart's products are all made in China. Walmart contributes to those empty factories. What's so powerful about an ad that makes absolutely no sense?"

Joining me to talk about this: CNN's senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES" Brian Stelter; Wall Street Journal contributor, Stephen Moore and CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans.

Welcome to all of you.




COSTELLO: Hi. So Brian I want to start with you. Walmart ran this ad during the Olympics -- wanted to get the word out that it was doing all of these good things. In the end, was it effective?

STELTER: I think the ad is actually very effective. We just saw a part of it. It is emotional. It's evocative and Mike Rowe is an excellent figurehead for them. I am a big fan of Mike. He went to the same school as I did in Townsend University in Maryland. He has always stood up for the little guy, you know.

And I understand why people think this is hypocritical and I'll spin it out for Walmart. But this is a path we have seen a lot of celebrities take. And the ad itself from a PR point of view is very effective.

COSTELLO: Well Stephen, it is true that Walmart is spending $250 billion to buy American products to sell in their stores. And of course, those goods will have to be made in American factories. And that should be a good thing. So why isn't it for so many people?

MOORE: Well, everybody loves to bash Walmart because the unions hate Walmart, because the workers at Walmart are not unionized. And you're right Carol, some of the products -- many of the products that Walmart sells at its everyday low prices are made outside of the United States in countries like China.

But you know, it is a major employer in this country. I mean there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who work for Walmart. And you know, the other interesting thing is, when a new Walmart store opens up, everybody says those are low-paying jobs nobody wants those. People circle around the block to sign up to enroll for those kinds of jobs.

So I think that on balance, Walmart has been a very positive thing for the American economy. And I agree. I think this ad it touches your sort of sense of patriotism. I liked it.

COSTELLO: So Christine I'll post this to you. Mike Rowe says, look, I'm not advocating for Walmart but at least it is doing something. And I am here to help create American jobs. And if this creates just one, that's OK.

ROMANS: Well Walmart sort of walked right into it because so many people have said isn't it rich now that Walmart is proposing to buy $250 million of American made goods over ten years, by the way, over ten years when Walmart is the one who drove those factories overseas in the first place.

Walmart is a huge employer of other country's labor making all the stuff that we all love to pay really cheap prices for, right. That's what those critics on his page are so upset about. They see him as a champion for the little guy, the manufacturing worker who has been outsourced, the worker who was working with his hands. Now the only job they can get -- they are lining up around the block to sell the things that someone else is making. That's what they are so angry about.

Carol $250 billion over ten years. Walmart sold $475 billion worth of stuff last year. They buy so much stuff. A Walmart representative even told me recently that the kinds of factories that they are hoping to get started, it is taking ten years, because you don't have enough factories in this country to provide the stuff that they are promising to buy. It is the things that don't take a lot of human hands to make them, socks, hosiery and things that can be highly automated. How many people are going to be working those (inaudible). These will be highly automated factories in some cases.

COSTELLO: So Stephen, should Walmart help build the factories?

MOORE: Well Look, I mean Christina is right, a lot of the products are made overseas. But you know, I am a big believer in trade. It's the thing that -- you know one of the reasons we have those low prices at Walmart, that you can get damn near anything I want for 99 cents at Walmart is because -- because of the fact that things come in from other countries.

Christine the only thing I would mention to you is don't forget, there are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of trucking jobs, warehousing jobs or other kinds of jobs that are related, even if those products are not made in the United States. A lot of spinoff jobs from the trade develop. (CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: You are right.

COSTELLO: Those jobs don't pay so much, right, Christine?

ROMANS: Look, you can quibble about the different kinds of scale of pay. You know Walmart jobs pay better than the retail average and that's true. Some of these trucking jobs pay very, very well. And Stephen knows and We have a shortage of skilled truckers in this country here.

But what -- what the critics on the micro Facebook page are so upset about is this idea that we don't make stuff in America anymore. We move it around and sell other people's stuff. There is this race to the bottom -- that you slowly kind of because we all want cheap stuff, the jobs pay less. And you just have a middle class that's sort of been gutted and fewer people going after the higher paying jobs.

You know the kinds of jobs we are creating in this country Carol are lower wage jobs. And you guys, the numbers show it. The mid-wage and high-wage jobs lost in the recession are being replaced by lower wage jobs moving stuff around the country.


COSTELLO: Brian, you were going to say.

STELTER: This is a case study for the use of Facebook and social media. I'm glad critics responded and I'm also glad Mike responded. I'm also glad he engaged -- Rather than just ignoring the critics, he actually spoke and responded and defended himself. Good on both sides for doing that, I think.

COSTELLO: Yes. It is interesting to go to his face and read how he defended himself. Because he comes up with great points. AS have all of you. Thank you so much, Brian Stelter, Christine And Stephen Moore.

COSTELLO: Still to come, he was once known as the flying tomato, but Shaun White's Olympic dreams have come crashing down. Rachel Nichols is in Sochi -- good morning.

RACHEL NICHOLS: Yes, Carol. You know Shaun pulled out of a different event early in this Olympics to focus on the halfpipe. That didn't go so well. We'll tell you all about it after the break.


COSTELLO: Just as quickly as Olympic dreams rise, some come crashing down. Probably the best known American man in these games, Shaun White, finds himself leaving Sochi without a medal.

The United States, by the way, is in sixth place in the medal count. Germany has the most gold medals so far. Norway has the most total medals. Norway has the most medals. That's the correct way to say that. CNN's Rachel Nichols has more for you from Sochi.


NICHOLS: And it's a tie for the first time in Olympic history, two athletes are bringing home the gold in alpine skiing, Slovenian skier, Tina Maze and Swiss skier Dominique Gisin -- both clocking in at the exact same time; both now embracing their sweet victory.

In another major surprise, the halfpipe left Shaun White empty handed. The game's most iconic snow boarder coming down hard; in the end falling short of not only his goal of three straight gold medals but short of the podium. The 27-year-old was disappointed after coming in fourth overtaken by 25-year-old Iouri Podladcthikov or I-Pod as his nickname.

The charming Swiss snowboarder with Russians roots won with his signature Yolo flip proving you do indeed only live once. While White might be singing the blues on the slope, he now says he is going to channel that energy into his band, "Bad Things".

There was a major victory for Team USA on the luge track, 27-year-old Erin Hamlin chasing her dream and grabbing the bronze becoming the first American to ever medal in singles luge. In the women's ski jump, while the U.S. didn't clinch a medal, American Sarah Hendrickson soared into history. The 19-year-old becoming the first woman to every compete in ski jumping at the Olympics.

Meanwhile in pairs figure skating, the Russians nicknamed "The Dream Team" took the lead with the short program that left the crowd wanting more, catapulting themselves into the record books with the best ever scores for a short program.

At the cross-country venue, Russian, Anton Gafarov taking a nasty spill but helped by Canadian coach, Justin Wadsworth. The ultimate day of sportsmanship for Canada. Two countries coming together on the trail, atop the podium, a very Olympic day indeed.


NICHOLS: Really a nice moment what the Olympics are all about. Although there was heartbreak at today's games as well. One of America's Olympic medal hopefuls in the half-pipe, because the women's half-pipe is going on as we speak, carol, 17-year-old Ariel Gold unfortunately she hurt her wrist during practice. She had to withdraw from the event. Can you imagine coming all wait to Sochi and not being able to compete the day of the event? Heartbreaking for her.

However, the other American medal hopefuls are through to the finals. So we will have to see how they do tonight.

COSTELLO: OK, just curious -- how warm is it there today?

NICHOLS: Well, it is night time as you can see behind me in Sochi so the temperature has dropped to a dreadfully killing 54 degrees now. We're going to go find our parkas.

COSTELLO: OK, good luck with that. Rachel Nichols many things.

And thank you for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello.

"AT THIS HOUR" with John Berman and Michaela Pereira starts now.