Potential For Ice A Concern As Deep Freeze Moves Into Atlanta Tuesday

The ice-covered interstate system shows the remnants of a winter snowstorm in Atlanta on Jan. 29, 2014. Less than an inch of snow is expected in Atlanta on Tuesday, but emergency officials say they're more concerned about the potential for ice.
The ice-covered interstate system shows the remnants of a winter snowstorm in Atlanta on Jan. 29, 2014. Less than an inch of snow is expected in Atlanta on Tuesday, but emergency officials say they're more concerned about the potential for ice.
Credit David Tulis / Associated Press file
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Updated at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday

Atlantans awoke to relatively mild weather Tuesday, but forecasters warned that streets could still become icy as fans arrive for the Super Bowl, with temperatures expected to drop more than 20 degrees during the day.

More than 100 of Tuesday’s flights were canceled at Atlanta’s airport and schools were closed across the city “in an abundance of caution” ahead of the storm front, which was churning toward Georgia Tuesday just as thousands of fans begin pouring into town for Super Bowl 53.

It was sweater weather for the morning commute. Office workers made crunching sounds stepping on the salt spread generously over Marietta Street, one of the main thoroughfares downtown. The salt caught the light from outdoor video boards set up for the Super Bowl, and reflected shades of blue, red and green.

Even a threat of icy weather is taken seriously in Atlanta, five years after cars, trucks and school buses became marooned on the southern city’s freeways in what became known as “snow jam.”

The storm system slowed somewhat overnight, but temperatures are still expected to plunge into the 30s by Tuesday afternoon and the 20s by evening, said Sid King, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

“When I came in this morning it was measuring about 50 in Atlanta, but it’s still expected to drop considerably,” King said.

Less than an inch of snow is now expected inside the perimeter highway that defines the metropolis, but emergency officials say they’re more concerned about the potential for ice.

A winter weather advisory remained in effect Tuesday for Atlanta, a city known for grinding to a halt in relatively light snowfalls.

Delta Air Lines “proactively” canceled about 170 flights at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, its main hub, the Atlanta-based airline announced late Monday.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday said state offices in more than 30 counties in the northern part of the state would be closed Tuesday, including those in the Atlanta area. “Temperatures are going to plummet,” the governor said.

On Monday, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen announced the district would be closed Tuesday. Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb and Cherokee counties have all also announced school closures.

New England Patriots fan Pamela Wales of Quincy, Massachusetts, said it’s the potential for ice that concerns her most. During her visit to Atlanta this week, local television footage reminded her that Atlanta and ice don’t mix well.

“They were showing all kinds of pictures on TV from 2014 when everyone got stuck,” Wales said as she toured Super Bowl exhibits at the Georgia World Congress Center Monday afternoon.

The potential for black ice is also “the overriding concern” among emergency officials, said Homer Bryson, director of the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency.

“Temperatures are going to plummet,” the governor said at a Monday news conference.

“It’s very similar to what we saw in 2014 where the roadways will not have time to dry off before the moisture or precipitation on them refreezes,” Kemp said. “And that’s when you have black ice, and that’s what causes wrecks, which causes gridlock and public safety issues, injuries.”

Road crews on Monday began treating major interstates, state routes and overpasses in North Georgia with brine — a liquid salt mixture — in anticipation of the storm.

The routes that both the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams must use to travel to and from practice venues will also be pre-treated, the Georgia Department of Transportation said in a statement.

Sunday’s Super Bowl will be played in downtown Atlanta in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which has a roof. The roof will be open if weather permits, officials have said. There’s a 40 percent chance of showers Sunday, but highs will be near 58 degrees. That’s slightly warmer than average for Feb. 3 in Atlanta, climate records show.

But forecasters say the more immediate threat is Tuesday, when roads could be treacherous.

“It is often easy to pass judgment on how we in Georgia deal with snow and ice, but for those from the North what you do know is that an ice event is very different than a snow event,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Monday.

About 1,900 employees were on call and more than 420 pieces of snow removal equipment were ready, the state Department of Transportation said.

Past Super Bowl weeks have been marred by wintry weather, including the 2011 game in Arlington, Texas. Ice coated roads around metro Dallas during the week before Green Bay defeated Pittsburgh that year. Chunks of ice also tumbled from the roof of Cowboys Stadium, hurting six workers on the ground. None of the injuries were considered life-threatening.

In 2000, the St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans arrived in Atlanta shortly after an ice storm brought traffic in the city to a standstill.

Unseasonably cold temperatures followed, and both teams had to practice outdoors since the Georgia Dome was being used for Super Bowl pregame and halftime rehearsals. The Rams wore winter jackets and thermal underwear in the biting cold.

“It’s ridiculous,” Rams coach Dick Vermeil said at the time. “But there’s nothing you can do about it except try to survive.