ATLANTA (AP) — The South awoke on Wednesday to a two-part Arctic mess. First came a thin blanket of snow and ice, and then came the below-zero wind chills and record-breaking low temperatures in New Orleans and other cities.
The snowfall sabotaged morning rush hour even before it began, sending cars crashing into each other on major thoroughfares throughout the region. Officials urged people to stay off the slick roads if possible, and to bundle up and wear layers of clothing if they ventured outside.
With the temperature hovering around 10 degrees, store clerk Susan Brown got to work an hour late Wednesday in the north Alabama city of Decatur. Snow and ice blanketed grassy areas and roadsides, she said, and neighborhood roads were much whiter than main highways.
“Traffic is moving along, but on side roads and residential streets it’s pretty slick,” said Brown, who works at Holaway’s Food Market. “As long as you stay in the tracks you’re pretty good.””
Fast-food restaurants and a few convenience stores were open, she said, but traffiic was light and not many people were out.
“We didn’t get much snow, maybe a half-inch, but the ice is the problem,” Brown said.
In Atlanta, snow covered icy sidewalks. Major thoroughfares usually full at morning rush hour were eerily quiet. Some cars went through red lights rather than stop and risk sliding on the ice.
David Johnston, 22, is a Georgia tech undergrad student and originally from the Atlanta area.
He’s used to winter and storms in the South. “When it snows, the city shuts down,” he said. School was canceled but he had to work so he walked 20 minutes through the snowy and icy sidewalks to get to the train and head downtown to his job. He thought his office was open but wasn’t sure.
Dozens of accidents were reported in the metro Atlanta area, including one involving a salt truck and another involving a rapid-transit bus.
“Give crews the time and space they need to clear the accidents,” Georgia Department of Transportation Natalie Dale told WSB-TV. “If you can’t safely get out of your neighborhood, it’s best to stay put.”
As the snow moved into North Carolina, fat flakes stuck to Tierra Murray’s hair as she filled up a tire on her sedan with air at a Sheetz gas station in Durham.
“My tire pressure was low due to the temperatures starting to drop,” she said early Wednesday.
The 33-year-old nurse’s aide said she was leaving a shift in a cardiac unit at Duke University Hospital and heading south to Chapel Hill for another shift at UNC as a floater available to whatever department needs her. She said that UNC would provide accommodations to medical personnel who need it if the snow keeps them from getting home at the end of their shift.
The blast of cold air shattered records early Wednesday in Louisiana and Mississippi.
It was 21 degrees (-6 Celsius) before dawn Wednesday in New Orleans. That breaks the city’s record low temperature for the date, which was 23 degrees (-5 Celsius) set in 1977.-
In Mississippi, the temperature in Hattiesburg dipped to 13 degrees (-11 Celsius) early Wednesday, breaking the previous record low of 14 (-10 Celsius).
Ryan Willis, a meteorologist for the National Water Service based in Peachtree City, south of Atlanta, said the forecast called for 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 to 4 centimeters) of snow to fall in metropolitan Atlanta through Wednesday morning, with localized higher amounts.
Gov. Nathan Deal issued a state of emergency for 83 counties, spanning much of central and north Georgia. This line extends from Columbus to Macon to Augusta and northward. State government will be closed Wednesday in the impacted areas for non-essential personnel.
Forecasters said travel could be difficult in north Georgia because of below-zero (-18 Celsius) wind chills. Many Georgia school districts already had announced early dismissal times and cancellations.
The same slippery conditions and dangerous wind chills swept across several southern states Tuesday, shutting down interstates, triggering highway crashes, closing airport runways and prompting widespread school closings. Snow fell in a wide band that stretched from southeastern Texas all the way to western Massachusetts.
Forecasters said up to 4 inches (10 centimeters) could fall in central North Carolina as the system pushed northward, with a couple of inches expected farther east. Northwestern South Carolina could get up to 2 inches (5 centimeters) of snow, the weather service said.
Snow also was forecast Wednesday for parts of Alabama, where Gov. Kay Ivey shut down government offices as a precaution.
Many schools districts in Louisiana will remain closed for a second straight day Wednesday, as the precipitation gives way to single-digit wind chills that keep icy roads from thawing.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development announced the closing of Interstate 10 in both directions between Baton Rouge and Lafayette. Steep on and off-ramps as well as elevated roadways are concerns to public safety in icy conditions, it said in a news release.
Back in North Carolina, it had been snowing for more than an hour by 8 a.m. Wednesday, and a thin white sheen of precipitation had formed on sidewalks and driveways. The roads glistened with moisture but appeared passable.
A handful of men sat in a Waffle House sipping coffee as spatulas clattered on the griddle of the chain famous for staying open around the clock in all kinds of weather. Paul Barbour, 60, was one of them.
“Once I get home today I’ll probably be in because I won’t want to drive anymore,” he said.
He said a cousin he lives with stocked up on groceries.
“Around here when it snows, if anyone even mentions snow, bread, milk and beer fly off the shelves,” he said.