Winter Weather Slams South With Snow, Icy Roads

A man walks in downtown Asheville, N.C.

A man walks in downtown Asheville, N.C., after a snowfall of over 6 inches hit the Blue Ridge Mountains on Monday. Scott Halleran/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Authorities say a winter freeze in the Deep South is to blame for at least two deaths as a major storm made its way through the region.

A rare coating of sleet, ice and snow took a toll on Southern states. Dangerous conditions closed schools, government offices and businesses from Texas to Georgia.

Newly elected Gov. Nathan Deal had to move his inauguration indoors at the state capitol in Atlanta, which saw 3 to 4 inches of snow and ice fall.

Emily Blackwell and Whitney Ball, both 22-year-old students at Georgia State University, were stuck at an apartment complex in north Atlanta on Monday. Ball's late-1990s, white Ford Mustang had rear-wheel drive and couldn't make it up the steep hill to get out of the complex.

"It was slushy" Sunday night, Ball said. "I tried to drive on it, but it was just as bad."

Both had been watching a football game with friends Sunday and had hoped to get home before the snow hit. They said they had been well-stocked with food and supplies at their own homes — but that their friends weren't as prepared.

"I even bought a sled," Ball said. "And now I'm here without it."

With temperatures not expected to go much above the mid-30s Monday, forecasters say the region is now in for icing of roadways with freezing rain and sleet.

Jill Goldberg, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Transportation, said that will make the job tougher for its workers and trucks on the roads.

"It's hard to know what areas of the road are cold enough to form ice right away, so you just have to keep sending your trucks all over," she said. "And once cars get on the road, it becomes even more difficult to treat."

There have been dozens of school system and university closings across the state. Thousands are without power.

The governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia declared states of emergency.

In Alabama, roads were coated with ice in Shelby County, just south of Birmingham, where Waffle House waitress Stephanie McGougin served eggs and grits to the few diners who could make it inside early Monday. There were plenty of empty seats at the restaurant, which is normally busy but was virtually deserted.

"I think we're about the only place open," McGougin said.

Tim Loucks, general manager of the Pilot Truck Stop in the northwestern Louisiana town of Haughton, said he had an empty diner as truckers who slept on his lot during the night were pulling out.

"Interstate 20 is open, but it's moving slow," Loucks said. "There's ice on the bridges and overpasses."

Loucks said the situation was different for drivers trying to drive on local roads. "If you're off the main roads, it's a skating rink," he said.

Icy roads were blamed in separate accidents Sunday that killed two people in northern Louisiana. A third person died in Tulsa County, Okla., when her car went off an icy road and into a pond, officials said.

The snowy weather will begin spreading north to Ohio by Tuesday, forecasters said.

The Southern freeze grounded flights at airports throughout the region, including busy hubs in Atlanta and Dallas. More than 2,000 flights were canceled in the region Monday, according to FlightAware, which tracks airline flights.

The National Weather Service said the Charlotte, N.C., area will get between 6 and 8 inches of snow with the areas to the south and west getting 8 to 10 inches.

Meteorologist Justin Lane said as the snow continues, it will very likely turn to sleet and then freezing rain.

"That's going to create extremely hazardous if not impossible driving conditions later tonight," he said.

Lane said the weather should gradually get better starting Tuesday, but he said that light freezing rain will still linger in the Charlotte area. There's a good chance that most of the ice on the roads from overnight won't thaw, he said.

NPR's Debbie Elliott, Edgar Treiguts and Marshall Terry contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press

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