ATLANTA — A widespread winter storm brought snow, freezing rain and black ice to the Southeastern United States on Saturday, leaving road closures, power outages and dangerous driving conditions in its wake.
Nineteen of the lower 48 states were under winter storm advisories, watches or warnings that impacted more than 60 million people, according to the National Weather Service.
The affected area stretched from Arizona to Delaware to the Carolinas — and included the metro areas of Atlanta; Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina; Birmingham, Alabama; Greenville, South Carolina; and Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia.
As the storm swept in, snow fell in Raleigh; Memphis, Tennessee; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and the northern Atlanta suburbs. “The heaviest snowfall (is) expected … from the southern Appalachians to southeastern Virginia,” the weather service said, adding that “most precipitation will begin to taper off by Saturday evening.”
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency due to the threatening weather. CNN meteorologists forecast 3 to 5 inches of snow or more could fall in areas around metro Atlanta.
“This is a very serious weather event,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said at a Friday news conference. “My only concern is that I don’t think people have an appreciation for the gravity of it. This is a very, very significant storm.”
Crowds flocked to grocery stores to load up on bread, milk and other items in advance of the storm.
Still, others were skeptical. Alex Preston posted a photo of long lines on Instagram. “Because of a snow flurry … really?” Preston’s post said.
Ice might become more of a factor than accumulations of snow in parts of the Atlanta area through Saturday afternoon, according to CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam.
“The ice seems to be having a hard time transitioning into snow,” he said.
The storm already had knocked out power to more than 10,000 customers across metro Atlanta by early Saturday, Georgia Power said on its website.
The best news about the storm is that it is happening at the weekend, which should prevent another “snow jam” scenario like the one that paralyzed Atlanta in January 2014.
During that storm tens of thousands of weekday commuters left work around the same time, creating massive gridlock on roads and highways and stranding hundreds of vehicles for hours.
The heaviest snow is expected in the Carolinas, where a winter storm morning is in effect from 7 p.m. Saturday to 1 p.m. Sunday.
Raleigh is likely to feel the brunt of the storm, forecasters said. The North Carolina capital could get up to a foot of snow, making it one of the top five snowstorms in the city’s history. Charlotte might see as much as 8 inches of snow, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.
Gov. Roy Cooper has declared a state of emergency for all 100 counties. The National Guard is ready, and the North Carolina Highway Patrol has been mobilized, Cooper said.
“It looks more and more as if this will be a significant snow event in North Carolina, so we are asking people to stay off the road when this weather event begins, and also to stay off the road when it ends,” he said.
He said his inaugural event, originally scheduled for Saturday morning, had been canceled. CNN affiliate WSOC-TV in Charlotte posted images of bread and milk being cleaned off shelves at a grocery store.
Asheville, in the mountains, expected 3-5 inches of snow on Friday, the weather service predicted. The Asheville Airport canceled all departing flights.
The Alabama Emergency Management Agency issued a statement late Friday evening warning that all of the
roads and bridges in Clay County had become “impassable” due to snow and sleet.
Gov. Robert Bentley also has declared a state of emergency — putting 300 Alabama National Guard soldiers on standby.
Eye on the snow
Hardy folks from the North often scoff at Southerners when they clear out store shelves at the mention of a winter storm, but the practice might have originated in another region of the country, according to AccuWeather.com.
“It appears that New Englanders can take credit for the purchasing of milk and bread prior to the storm,” the site reported last year. “It was the monumental blizzard in 1978 that trapped many in homes for weeks that gets at least some credit for the current tradition.”
Major airlines issued advisories about potential impact.
FlightAware, an airline tracking website, listed more than 991 cancellations within, into or out of the United States by 11 p.m. ET Friday.
Snowstorms in the South are notoriously difficult to forecast, as timing or a change of 1 or 2 degrees can be the difference between several inches or just a cold rain. National Weather Service meteorologists labeled the storm forecast “tricky” earlier this week.
There still is some uncertainty, as a few forecasting models show precipitation arriving before the temperatures cool down enough to create snow.