Delays Reported At Atlanta Airport As South Wakes Up To Snow, Ice, Frigid Cold

A person walks through a snow-covered Piedmont Park as the Midtown skyline stands in the background Wednesday.

David Goldman / Associated Press

Updated at 11:55 a.m. Wednesday

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.

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The snowfall sabotaged morning rush hour even before it began, sending cars crashing into each other on major thoroughfares throughout the region. Officials urged people to stay off the slick roads if possible, and to bundle up and wear layers of clothing if they ventured outside.

Around Atlanta

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.

A Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman says icy conditions are persisting on many roadways, but all interstates were passable by late Wednesday morning.

Agency spokeswoman Natalie Dale said crews were out working from south of Columbus, Georgia, up to the Tennessee border and about three-quarters of state roads were affected.

She said it was “an all-hands-on-deck situation.”

With temperatures not expected to rise above freezing Wednesday, a hard freeze overnight was likely, meaning icy conditions are expected to continue into Thursday, she said.

Dale said many side roads and neighborhood streets aren’t being treated and are icy and dangerous. State officials urged people to stay off the roads.

She said people keep asking when Georgians “will get the all-clear.” She said that wouldn’t happen Wednesday.

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.”

Ryan Willis, a meteorologist for the National Water Service based in Peachtree City, south of Atlanta, said the forecast called for 1 to 1.5 inches of snow to fall in metropolitan Atlanta through Wednesday morning, with localized higher amounts.

Airport Delays

Major delays are being reported at the world’s busiest airport in Atlanta.

The Federal Aviation Administration said early Wednesday that snow and ice prompted officials to delay takeoffs. Some arriving flights also were being delayed more than an hour.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport said in a statement Tuesday night that crews were de-icing airplanes as wintry weather moved into metro Atlanta.

The flight tracking service early Wednesday reported 90-minute delays at the airport in Memphis, Tennessee, a major hub in the U.S. air transportation system.

State Of Emergency Issued

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 nonessential personnel.

Deal also said state government offices will remain closed Thursday in 83 counties.

Deal said in a statement Wednesday that only essential employees would report to work in the counties hard-hit by the wintry weather that swept across Georgia on Tuesday night.

The governor said the decision was made on a recommendation from Georgia’s Emergency Operations Command.

Deal said that ice is continuing to accumulate on Georgia roads since freezing temperatures were continuing Wednesday.

Forecasters said travel could be difficult in North Georgia because of below-zero wind chills. Many Georgia school districts  — including many in metro Atlanta — 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.


Around The South

With the 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 traffiic was light and not many people were out.

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

As the snow moved into North Carolina, fat flakes stuck to Tierra Murray’s hair as she filled up a tire on her sedan with air at a Sheetz gas station in Durham.

“My tire pressure was low due to the temperatures starting to drop,” she said early Wednesday.

The 33-year-old nurse’s aide said she was leaving a shift in a cardiac unit at Duke University Hospital and heading south to Chapel Hill for another shift at UNC as a floater available to whatever department needs her. She said that UNC would provide accommodations to medical personnel who need it if the snow keeps them from getting home at the end of their shift.

Records Broken

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

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

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

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 for a second straight day Wednesday, as the precipitation gives way to single-digit wind chills that keep icy roads from thawing.

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development announced the closing of Interstate 10 in both directions between Baton Rouge and Lafayette. Steep on- and off-ramps as well as elevated roadways are concerns to public safety in icy conditions, it said in a news release.

Back in North Carolina, it had been snowing for more than an hour by 8 a.m. Wednesday, and a thin white sheen of precipitation had formed on sidewalks and driveways. The roads glistened with moisture but appeared passable.

A handful of men sat in a Waffle House sipping coffee as spatulas clattered on the griddle of the chain famous for staying open around the clock in all kinds of weather. Paul Barbour, 60, was one of them.

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