A traveller makes their way to a vehicle as snow covers the parking decks at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport Friday, in Atlanta. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

As snow falls in South, Atlanta worries over traffic, safety

  • Dec. 8, 2017 2:06 p.m.

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.

Businesses closed and commuters left work early as snow mixed with rain fell in downtown Atlanta, causing traffic jams on slushy roads far ahead of the usual rush hour.

“We’re surprised that this little snowfall would cause this much disruption to the entire city,” said Lucas Rachow, who stood outside with several colleagues holding suitcases outside as they waited for a ride to the airport.

Rachow was heading home to Switzerland after a business meeting and said he didn’t know if his flight had been cancelled.

The National Weather Service said just 1 to 2 inches (3-5 centimetres) of snow accumulation was expected in Atlanta, with higher amounts possible in the city’s northern suburbs. It was enough to remind 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.

At a Jersey Mike’s sandwich shop in downtown Atlanta, manager Mike Thomas said the snow had driven away his clientele. He was calling his boss to see if they should close up early, just as the barbecue restaurant next door had done.

“I’m terribly slow,” Thomas said, just after what should have been the lunch rush.

Heavy snow fell across several Southern states Friday. Parts of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi reported flurries before dawn. Accumulations of 6 inches (15 centimetres) were reported in Mississippi and northern Georgia, while at least 5 inches (13 centimetres) fell in Alabama.

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.

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 a bleak winter scene in the town of Grove Hill, about 80 miles (129 kilometres) north of Mobile.

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

Delta Air Lines cancelled 375 flights Friday through its hub at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, while Southwest Airlines cancelled 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.

Highway department officials were 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.

Short, squat snowmen — some already melting by Friday afternoon — dotted yards and parks around Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Josh Black, a 30-year-old LSU graduate student, took photos of one tiny snowman outside the state capitol building near the gravesite of former Louisiana Gov. Huey Long.

Black, who hails from the Toronto, Canada, area, chuckled about southern Louisiana’s reaction to the snow.

“They cancelled school this morning, which is funny to me, for an inch of snow that is going to melt in an hour,” he said, smiling. “This is like May or October where I’m from.”

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 frigid temperatures behind a cold front combined with moisture off the Gulf of Mexico to bring the weather to parts of the South. 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 Mexican border. 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 weather service warned that black ice was possible on roads late Friday night and Saturday morning with low temperatures of 20 degrees (-6. Celsius) 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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