A winter storm striking the southeastern states of the U.S. disrupted a new governor’s inauguration in North Carolina, coated roads with hazardous ice and snow in parts of Georgia and Alabama and triggered hundreds of fender benders in Tennessee.
Road workers manning 12-hour shifts pretreated roads after states of emergency were declared in Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas — racing the storm as it closed in on a wide swath of the Southeast with a messy mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain.
Parts of North Carolina and Virginia were forecast to receive up to a foot of snow. Officials warned that their Southern cities, with far fewer snowplows than up north, could grind to a halt with even a thin coat of ice or snow.
Atlanta roads OK, not Alabama’s
Sleet and snow fell on the outlying northwest suburbs of Atlanta, while rain and freezing rain brought slush to that city’s streets. But there was no immediate repeat of the epic traffic jam of a January 2014 snowstorm when gridlock engulfed interstates and many were stranded in their cars.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted police as saying authorities were handling some vehicle crashes on Interstate 75 northwest of Atlanta Friday night. No injuries were reported.
In Atlanta, where memories of a catastrophic snow and ice storm in 2014 are still fresh, city leaders organized early departures from schools, companies and other places. The earlier storm brought traffic to a standstill on metro Atlanta freeways, and office workers were forced to spend the night in their cars in gridlock.
At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest airport, Delta Air Lines announced Friday that 350 flights had been canceled ahead of the storm.
In parts of Alabama, road conditions quickly deteriorated under a thin blanket of snow and sleet. Police said many roads were deemed impassable in Anniston, Oxford and other areas of the state. State troopers say they were working several weather-related crashes and warned that ice-covered bridges were hazardous in the Birmingham area.
The winter mess was blamed for hundreds of fender benders and other crashes in which no one was hurt, some involving school buses, on Nashville roads coated by 1 to 2 inches of snow Friday morning. Nashville’s city school district initially ordered classes to start on schedule but had to hastily call early dismissals as police reports of minor crashes multiplied. All students safely made it home.
“We apologize,” Nashville Schools Chief Operating Officer Chris Henson said. “We realize that it’s been very frustrating for everyone.’’
In North Carolina, the storm threat sent new Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper scrambling to his Executive Mansion ballroom for an abridged swearing-in ceremony Friday. A larger outdoor ceremony Saturday organized for thousands had to be scrapped, along with a parade.
“Consider yourselves the chosen few,’’ Cooper jokingly told well-wishers who made it to his 20-minute oath-taking.
Lauren Rathbone, manager of a Public Hardware store in Durham, North Carolina, estimated the store sold nearly 7 tons of ice melt in 50- and 10-pound bags, along with hundreds of sleds and shovels. Describing the mood of customers, she said all was good until items began selling out.
“Up until about 10 o’clock: Happy, excited, and ‘at least I got my stuff.’ After 10 o’clock: ‘Why … ain’t you got anything?’’’
Even before the storm hit, shoppers were out in force stocking up on basic foods. But by the time Justin Fetty, 31, of Hampton, Virginia, made it to a Food Lion in that state, every brand of bread that he was familiar with was gone.
“You had to buy like weird stuff,’’ he said, at a loss to describe exactly what kind of bread he purchased. “But my daughter needs her PB&Js.’’
The storm was blamed for one death Thursday in Kentucky when a motorist drove off a curve on a snow-slickened road.
Meanwhile, out West
Winter weather was also slamming parts of the West earlier in the week, prompting some dangerous conditions but also drawing skiers to the slopes. The storm dumped 6 feet of snow alone atop the Sierra Nevada, raising fears of a flood threat
In Colorado, heavy snow and strong winds raised the danger of avalanches. Snow in Boise, Idaho, reached 15 inches Thursday, breaking the previous snow-depth record of 13 inches from mid-1980s.