Is Atlanta ready this time?
ATLANTA – Snow, sleet and freezing rain were creeping across parts of the South on Tuesday, the beginning of a three-day storm system potentially more devastating than the blast that paralyzed much of the region two weeks ago.
National Weather Service meteorologist Michael Musher said ice accumulation forecasts "remain mind-boggling if not historical" in cities such as Atlanta, Athens and Augusta in Georgia, Columbia, S.C., and Raleigh, N.C.
"High ice accumulations will make travel impossible," the National Weather Service reported in an advisory Tuesday. "This has the potential to be a catastrophic event. Widespread power outages are possible as ice accumulates on trees and power lines and brings them down."
President Obama declared an emergency for the state of Georgia. The storm ultimately will target more than 100 million people, scores of major roads and many major airline hubs from Texas to Georgia, New York and Massachusetts this week, AccuWeather reported.
The storm was already deadly in Texas. At least three weather-related deaths were reported in the Dallas area, including firefighter William Tanksley, 40, who fell from an icy overpass when a car skidded into the scene of an accident.
Parts of Mississippi could see 3 inches of snow, and state transportation officials warned of ice on roads across much of northern Mississippi early Tuesday.
"It's bad," said Curt Clayton, emergency management director for Union County, Miss. "Stay off the road."
Alabama, which saw stranded vehicles and 10,000 students spend the night in schools during the January storm, was likely to get a wintry mix, with as much as 3 inches of snow and ice. A blast of snow over a wide section of Kentucky slickened roads and closed several school districts.
South Carolina, which hasn't seen a major ice storm in nearly a decade, could get a quarter to three-quarters of an inch of ice and as much as 8 inches of snow in some areas.
The storm is forecast to move up the East Coast later Wednesday and into Thursday, potentially dropping as much as a foot of snow all the way from Virginia to New England, meteorologist Musher said.
More than 1,150 flights had been canceled nationwide Tuesday as of 12:05 p.m. ET, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware.com. Almost 1,000 more had already been canceled for Wednesday.
STORY: Airlines deal with storm
Atlanta, essentially shut down by the last storm, was bracing for the worst. While mostly just rain was falling on the city Tuesday morning, a winter storm warning was in effect for all of north and portions of central Georgia until 1 p.m. Thursday, WXIA meteorologist Chris Holcomb said.
Accumulations of 3 to 6 inches of snow and sleet were possible in the northeastern corner of the state, with 1 to 3 inches of snow possible for the Atlanta metro area and just south, he said.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday added 43 more counties across middle Georgia to the state of emergency declaration he issued Monday, meaning that 88 of the state's 159 counties are now in a state of emergency. President Obama's emergency declaration opens the door to federal aid.
The storm that shut Atlanta down Jan. 28 was primarily a traffic disaster: Thousands of schoolchildren spent the night at school, hundreds more on buses. Motorists spent the night in gridlocked cars, or they simply left them beside the highway. Many people stayed overnight at work. Before the roadways were cleared, local and state politicians came under intense scrutiny for how they responded.
Several inches of snow have already fallen in the North Georgia mountains, north of Atlanta. Residents have been warned to stay off the windy, slick roads. VPC
The latest storm could be worse.
In Atlanta, traffic was lighter than usual Tuesday as many residents heeded authorities' warning to stay off the roads, most schools were closed for the day and many businesses shuttered.
Aaron Strickland, head of the Georgia Power Storm Center, said the company was bringing in crews from Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Michigan to help restore power as quickly as possible if outages pile up. Strickland, who has spent 35 years with Georgia Power, said he's never seen an inch of ice in metro Atlanta.
"I've seen people forecast it, but it's never come," Strickland said. "And I'm hoping it don't this time."
The state Department of Transportation has restocked salt brine and sand supplies and positioned them where they're most likely to be needed, Deal said. The DOT was moving dozens of road crews from districts in south Georgia to metro Atlanta, said Commissioner Keith Golden.
In Atlanta, Mayor Kasim Reed said the city was contracting for 35 additional spreaders for a total of 60, and for 20 more plows for a total of 40. He said the city was coordinating with 10 neighboring counties and had stockpiled 1,500 tons of sand and de-icing materials
Atlanta-area residents are anticipating a worse storm, as evidenced by the runs on grocery stores. A Kroger in Smyrna was so jammed there were no parking spaces in the huge lot Monday afternoon, and the lines inside were daunting.
"I think there's definitely overreaction," said Ken White, 48, an aircraft mechanic for Delta Air Lines whose 35-minute commute from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Jan. 28 took 11½ hours. "Well, I say overreaction, but time will tell. They're definitely being a lot more cautious. People are going to be prepared this time."
Contributing: Doyle Rice and Ben Mutzabaugh in McLean, Va., Rick Jervis in Austin; Associated Press