As snow falls in South, big cities worry about travel safety

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Forecast calls for a wintry mix of rain and snow across several states through Saturday

The Associated Press

ATLANTA — The snow that blanketed parts of the Deep South Friday delighted schoolchildren with an unexpected holiday but also revived panicky memories for many adults of past storms that trapped commuters on interstates for hours.

In Alabama, manager Liza Snell worked the morning shift at Bertile’s Restaurant, as coffee cups and utensils clattered and regulars talked at their tables. Through the window she saw anything but a pretty winter scene in the town of Grove Hill, about 80 miles north of Mobile.

“We got a lot of sleet right now. It’s an ugly thing — cloudy, wet and cold,” she said.

By early afternoon, steady snowfall had left a thin, white blanket on rooftops and patches of ground in downtown Atlanta. People were leaving work early, businesses were closing and some roads were already jammed — reminding some residents of the 2014 storm that brought the city to a standstill and stranded motorists on roads overnight with just 2 inches of precipitation.

Friday’s forecast called for a wintry mix of rain and snow across several states. Parts of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi reported snow flurries before dawn. The weather band also prompted closures in the Carolinas and brought a rare snowfall to parts of South Texas.

“It’s the first snow of the season and any time you even mention snow in the South, you’re going to get people a little panicky,” said David Nadler, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s office south of Atlanta.

Delta Air Lines canceled 125 flights Friday through its hub at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, while Southwest Airlines canceled more than 40 flights. Both airlines prepared for the storm by having crews de-ice planes, and Delta waived fees for some passengers scheduled to fly on Friday.

Louisiana’s highway department was monitoring the elevated roadways and bridges that stretch across much of south Louisiana, warning that motorists to stay home if possible. Some highways were shut down Friday, as snow fell in cities and towns that have little experience with it.

Snowfall and icy roads in North Carolina closed government offices and schools, sent cars sliding off the road and altered the governor’s travel plans.

Forecasters said heavy snow was falling in the mountainous western part of the state with up to 6 inches likely in areas including Asheville. A winter storm warning was in effect through Saturday morning for western counties.

In Alabama, Glenn Thompson said he had no trouble getting to work at a Texaco station in the northeastern town of Heflin despite snow that was still falling.

“We probably got about an inch. As long as the temperature doesn’t drop we’ll be fine,” said Thompson. “The roads are wet but they’re clear. We’ve still got people coming through (but) they closed schools for the day in Cleburne County.”

The frigid temperatures behind a cold front combined with moisture off the Gulf of Mexico to bring the weather to parts of the South, also yielding a rare snowfall in South Texas. It knocked out power to thousands and caused numerous accidents along slick roadways.

Snow and sleet fell Thursday in Laredo and other communities on the border with Mexico. The weather band also brought snow to San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Houston and elsewhere.

Georgia road crews took no chances ahead of Friday’s morning rush hour and pre-treated bridges and overpasses late Thursday with a briny water-and-salt mix against any snow or ice.

The National Weather Service said a half inch to an inch of snow is forecast across many areas of the South by Friday night. Winter weather advisories have been posted for parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas. The advisories were issued for cities including Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Hattiesburg, Mississippi; and Birmingham, Alabama.

Weather service meteorologist Kent McMullen said the first reports of snow came in the north Georgia mountains. Snow also began falling early Friday in the suburbs north of Atlanta, with drizzle reported in other parts of the state.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty right now” about just where the snow could fall and in what amounts, Nadler cautioned.

“We’re not expecting temperatures to drop below freezing until sometime Friday evening,” Nadler said of the Atlanta forecast.

The weather service warned that black ice was possible on roads Saturday morning with low temperatures of 20 degrees to the lower 30s.

Highs were expected to reach the 40s by Saturday afternoon with mostly sunny skies.

In southwestern Alabama, Snell took another look at the weather outside Bertile’s Restaurant where sleet had turned to snow.

“We’re getting some snowflakes now. It’s white and pretty. It just changed in a few seconds,” she said.

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