An ice storm gripped the winter-weary South on Wednesday, knocking out power to a wide swath of the region as the outages nearly doubled by the hour, and forecasters warned the worst of the potentially "catastrophic" storm was yet to come.
The Associated Press
ATLANTA — An ice storm gripped the winter-weary South on Wednesday, knocking out power to a wide swath of the region as the outages nearly doubled by the hour, and forecasters warned the worst of the potentially "catastrophic" storm was yet to come.
From Texas to the Carolinas and the South's business hub in Atlanta, roads were slick, businesses and schools were closed and people hunkered down. Just hours into it, sleet, snow and freezing rain had encased trees, sending them crashing into power lines. More than 200,000 homes and businesses across the region were without power and the number steadily increased. The storm came in waves of snow, sleet and freezing rain and forecasters warned relief with warmer temperatures wasn't expected until Thursday at the earliest.
Officials and forecasters in several states used unusually dire language in warnings, and they agreed that the biggest concern was ice, which could knock out power for days. Winds, with gusts up to 30 mph in parts of Georgia, exacerbated problems.
In Atlanta, where a storm took the metro region by surprise and stranded thousands in vehicles just two weeks ago, tens of thousands of customers were reported without power. City roads and interstates were largely desolate.
The few that ventured out walked to the pharmacy, rode the train or walked their dogs.
"Even in the snow, you still have to do your business," said Matt Altmix, who took out his Great Dane, Stella. "After the first snow, we kind of got our snow excitement out of the way. But now it's more the drudgery of pushing on."
Stinging drops of sleet fell and a layer of ice crusted car windshields. Slushy sidewalks made even short walking trips treacherous. One emergency crew had to pull over to wait out the falling snow before slowly making its way back to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency's special operations center.
The combination of sleet, snow and freezing rain was expected to coat power lines and tree branches with more than an inch of ice between Atlanta and Augusta. Other areas would see less than an inch.
In normally busy downtown areas, almost every business was closed, except for a CVS pharmacy.
Amy Cuzzort, who spent six hours in her car during the traffic standstill of January's storm, said she'd spend this one at home, "doing chores, watching movies — creepy movies, 'The Shining,'" referring to the film about a writer who goes mad while trapped in a hotel during a snowstorm.
In Decatur, just outside Atlanta, Georgia State University student Matt Stanhope, 23, ventured outside to go to a pharmacy but then planned to stay home.
"Everything is just on pause," he said, gazing at vacant streets.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, sounding a far more upbeat tone than two weeks ago, warned people not to become complacent as the storm came in waves.
"Thanks to the people of Georgia. You have shown your character," he said. During the last storm, Deal was widely criticized for being unprepared and the state became the butt of late-night jokes.
By the numbers
SNOW AND ICE: Quarter-inch to 1.5 inches of ice around Atlanta and east. 3 to 5 inches of snow in north Georgia.
POWER OUTAGES: More than 200,000 homes and businesses without electricity statewide. About 115,000 are customers of Georgia Power, which reported 71,000 outages in metro Atlanta.
THE ARMY NATIONAL GUARD: 1,000 guardsmen mobilized. 150 four-wheel drive vehicles, including Humvees.
EQUIPMENT: 705 pieces from Georgia Department of Transportation, including trucks, plows, salt spreaders. 125 spreaders and snow plows in city of Atlanta.
STAFF: 2,130 state transportation workers on call.
SALT AND GRAVEL: 64,150 tons in state stockpiles and expecting to get more. 3,000 tons for city of Atlanta roads.
UTILITIES: 200 trucks from throughout the Southeast available to start restoring power.
WARMING SHELTERS: At least 57 statewide including 35 National Guard armories and 11 Georgia state parks with 2,800 cots available. Shelters also opened at some police precincts, fire stations, churches and recreation centers in metro Atlanta.
FLIGHTS: 1,609 Atlanta-based flights canceled for Wednesday. 100,000 gallons of de-icing fluid, 100,000 pounds of de-icing pellets, salt and sand for runways.
LAST TIME: In 2000, an ice storm in the Atlanta area left more than 500,000 homes and businesses without power. Damages topped $35 million. A storm in 1973 caused an estimated 200,000 outages for several days.