ATLANTA – Temperatures plummeted late Monday, turning slushy streets into sheets of ice across Southern states that are more accustomed to sunshine than snow. The wintry blast has grounded flights, cut power to thousands of homes and even forced Auburn University to cancel viewing parties for the national championship bowl game.
Snow ranging from several inches to more than a foot blanketed states from Louisiana to the Carolinas – a region where many cities have only a handful of snowplows, if any. In many areas, the snow began turning to freezing rain, making roads even more treacherous.
“If you’re off the main roads, it’s a skating rink,” said Tim Loucks, manager of the Pilot Truck Stop in Haughton, La.
The storm shut down most cities and towns, closed many businesses, and canceled most flights at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the world’s busiest. At least nine people were killed in weather-related traffic accidents.
Worried shoppers left grocery store shelves bare, and families without electricity huddled in dark, chilly homes. Predicted overnight lows in the 20s raised the threat of more outages as snow and freezing rain accumulated on tree branches and power lines.
“The problem here is that they’re not used to it, so the equipment and the sanitation removal and the snow removal is not really geared for this kind of situation,” said Tino Grana, 48, of New York City, who traveled to Atlanta to sell art at a downtown trade show.
Atlanta, which got 4 to 7 inches, has just eight snowplows. The city hired a fleet of 11 privately run trucks to help spread salt and gravel.
The heaviest snow fell in parts of Tennessee that received as much as 13 inches.
The weather began rolling across the South on Sunday, coating bridges and roads with snow, sleet and freezing rain. The governors of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee declared emergencies. Schools and colleges called off classes.
More than 2,000 flights were canceled around the South – affecting passengers as far away as Scandinavia – and Atlanta’s airport was nearly deserted on what would normally be a busy Monday morning.