- By KATE BRUMBACK and JAY REEVES, Associated Press
- A police officer walks from the scene of an overturned Jeep after an accident on a snow covered road in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. A winter storm is making it's way through Virginia. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
By KATE BRUMBACK and JAY REEVES, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — A thin layer of snow and ice across the South closed runways, highways, schools and government offices and sent cars sliding off roads Wednesday, while a blast of cold air broke records as far south as the Gulf Coast. At least five deaths were blamed on the weather.
Icicles hung from a statue of jazz musicians in normally balmy New Orleans, and drivers unaccustomed to ice spun their wheels across Atlanta, which was brought to a near-standstill. The beach in Biloxi, Mississippi, got a light coating of snow. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill canceled classes as the storm unloaded at least 4 inches by late morning.
The snowfall sabotaged the morning rush hour before it even began, sending cars crashing into each other over a swath of the country with precious few snowplows. Officials urged people to stay off the roads if possible, and to bundle up if they ventured outside.
By midday, skies were bright and sunny in many places, but temperatures were expected to remain below freezing throughout the day in much of the region, and roads were likely to remain icy into Thursday.
“People keep asking when we will get the all-clear,” said Georgia Transportation Department spokeswoman Natalie Dale. “It will not happen today.”
Thousands of schoolchildren and teachers got the day off. Many cities canceled meetings and court sessions, and some businesses closed. Slippery runways and the need to de-ice planes forced cancellations and delays in New Orleans; Memphis, Tennessee; and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.
With the temperature hovering around 10 degrees (-12 Celsius), grocery clerk Susan Brown got to work an hour late in Decatur, Alabama. Snow and ice blanketed grassy areas and neighborhood roads.
“Traffic is moving along, but on side roads and residential streets it’s pretty slick,” she said. “As long as you stay in the tracks, you’re pretty good.”
Dairy farmer Will Gilmer bundled up for the drive to his milking barn before daybreak in western Alabama, the thermometer reading 7 degrees (-14 Celsius).
“I probably had four layers on and then insulated coveralls and a heavy coat on over that. I made it OK except for my toes,” he said.
On an icy stretch of Interstate 75 southeast of Atlanta, a driver hit a car stopped along the side of the road, killing two men, one inside the vehicle and the other standing beside it, authorities said. Two other people died in weather-related traffic accidents in West Virginia and New Orleans, and homeless man was found dead, apparently of exposure, in freezing Houston.
Icy roads hampered travel as far south as the Gulf Coast, where ice pellets covered the tops of sago palm trees. Stretches of Interstate 10 were closed in Louisiana and across Alabama’s Mobile Bay.
Downtown Atlanta was eerily quiet. Some motorists drove through red lights rather than stop and risk sliding.
“This is kind of my scene,” said Sarah Snider, a zookeeper at the Atlanta zoo who recently moved from Vermont and was amused that everything shut down over just an inch or two of snow. “It is shocking that this much snow shut down the whole city.”
Dozens of accidents were reported in metro Atlanta, including one involving a salt truck and another involving a commuter bus.
“Y’all aren’t going to make it!” a driver in a pickup truck yelled at two drivers in compact cars that were spinning their wheels on an icy boulevard near SunTrust Park, where the Atlanta Braves play. “You’re going to slide back down the hill! Turn around!”
Outside Five Points Station, the center of Atlanta’s commuter rail system, a man fell on the sidewalk and appeared unresponsive. An ambulance arrived quickly.
Adrian Benton, a 26-year-old native of snowy Buffalo, New York, tried to help.
“The up-north way of dealing with snow needs to come down here,” Burton said. Atlanta needed “snowplows, salt already going down last night so people can get around.”
But Susan Luciano, walking in her snow-blanketed Peachtree City, Georgia, neighborhood, was delighted: “It is the most romantic setting. It is beautiful. This is God’s masterpiece. It’s refreshing, it’s rejuvenating, it’s like a postcard. It’s like our neighborhood is a living postcard.”
The blast of cold air shattered records early Wednesday in Louisiana and Mississippi, and electricity usage surged to record highs as people tried to keep warm in Texas. It was 21 degrees (minus 6 Celsius) before dawn in New Orleans, breaking the city’s record low of 23 (minus 5 Celsius) on the same date in 1977.
In Mississippi, the mercury in Hattiesburg dipped to 13 degrees (minus 11 Celsius), breaking the record of 14 (minus 10 Celsius).
Snow fell in a wide band that stretched from southeastern Texas all the way to western Massachusetts. As much as 4 inches fell in parts of North Carolina, where the Highway Patrol had responded to more than 500 collisions by midday.
Reeves reported from Birmingham, Alabama. Associated Press writers Jeff Martin in Atlanta; Jonathan Drew in Durham, North Carolina; David Warren in Dallas; Rebecca Reynolds Yonker in Louisville, Kentucky; Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee; and Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Missouri, contributed to this report.