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Across the South, it's snow, ice and record-breaking cold

Associated Press • Jan 17, 2018 at 10:27 AM

ATLANTA — The South awoke 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 before it even began, sending cars crashing into each other on major thoroughfares. Officials urged people to stay off the roads if possible, and to bundle up if they ventured outside.

With 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 traffic was light. Not many people were out.

“We didn’t get much snow, maybe a half-inch, but the ice is the problem,” Brown said.

Icy conditions hampered travel as far south as the Gulf Coast, where stretches of Interstate 10 were closed in Louisiana and across Alabama’s Mobile Bay.

In Atlanta, snow covered icy sidewalks. Major thoroughfares usually full at rush hour were eerily quiet. Some cars drove through red lights rather than stop and risk sliding.

David Johnston, a 22-year-old Georgia tech student, is used to winter in the South. “When it snows, the city shuts down,” he said.

School was canceled, but he had to work — he walked 20 minutes on snowy, icy sidewalks to get to the train and head downtown.

Many Atlanta-based offices and employers closed for the day, but Jarquiese Norwood, 28, also had to get to work: at a warehouse where he’s a forklift operator. “It snows, like, every couple years,” he said of Atlanta, and it’s “pretty much the same every year.”

He said he usually takes Uber, but the normally reasonable fare had surged to $40. “I wish I was off from work,” he said as he waited for a train.

Dozens of accidents were reported in metro Atlanta, 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.”

Outside Five Points Station, a major one at the center of Atlanta’s MARTA system, a man fell on the sidewalk and appeared unresponsive. An ambulance came quickly, and paramedics maneuvered slowly: “I’ve got the stretcher,” ‘‘be careful,” they told each other.

Adrian Benton, 26, tried to help. He exited a bus that had stopped but allowed passengers to remain inside for warmth.

“The up-north way of dealing with snow needs to come down here,” the Buffalo, New York, native said, adding that the city should have had “snow plows, salt already going down last night so people can get around.”

The blast of cold air shattered records early Wednesday in Louisiana and Mississippi.

It was 21 degrees before dawn in New Orleans. That breaks the city’s record low for the date, which was 23 degrees in 1977.

In Mississippi, the temperature in Hattiesburg dipped to 13 degrees, breaking the previous record of 14.

Ryan Willis, a meteorologist for the National Water Service, said the forecast called for 1 to 1.5 inches of snow 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 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 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 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 Wednesday, as precipitation gives way to single-digit wind chills. Interstate 10 closed in both directions between Baton Rouge and Lafayette.

In North Carolina, a thin white sheen of precipitation had formed on sidewalks and driveways by early morning.

A handful of men sipped coffee at Waffle House, famous for staying open around the clock in all kinds of weather.

“Once I get home today I’ll probably be in because I won’t want to drive anymore,” Paul Barbour, 60, 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.

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