POSTED: 2:30 a.m. HST, Jan 18, 2013
ATLANTA (AP) — Parts of the Southeast were digging out Friday from a winter storm that dumped snow around the region and played a role in at least one death.
In Virginia, the areas hardest hit Thursday and Friday were in the southwest, where the National Weather Service says 13 inches were reported in Giles County, while Grayson County and the Galax area received about a foot.
Road crews in that part of the state were out in force early Friday to plow and treat roads. Hardest hit was Interstate 77. The highway still had snow cover and there were reports of disabled vehicles along the roadway.
While the winter storm wasn't as severe as initially feared, icy roads remained a concern Friday morning and some school systems decided to open late.
Parts of Mississippi saw 2 to 4 inches of snow on the ground Thursday. In Lowndes County, Highway Patrol spokesman Cpl. Criss Turnipseed said Johnnie A. Matthews, 64, of West Point died when his car collided with a downed tree about 5 a.m. on Mississippi Highway 50.
Turnipseed says the large pine tree in the roadway appeared to have been uprooted by wind and ground saturation due to excessive rainfall. The winter blitz follows days of heavy rain across much of the Southeast.
No other fatalities have been reported but thousands lost power.
Virginia State Police say they were swamped with calls at the height of the storm. Dispatchers fielded more than 760 calls reporting crashes and disabled vehicles.
In Roanoke, Va., heavy snow was falling as residents prepared for the first significant storm of the season.
In Bland County, Virginia, heavy snow, downed trees, disabled vehicles and numerous crashes partially closed I-77, said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller. Traffic was moving slowly Thursday night and Geller said officials would work through the night to reopen all lanes.
In Alabama on Thursday, northern and central parts of the state were blanketed with as much as 4 inches of snow, forcing businesses and schools to close early and snarling traffic on Interstate 65, where some motorists were stuck for seven or more hours after a series of crashes that caused a miles-long traffic jam. The county emergency management agency opened a shelter at the Cullman Civic Center for stranded motorists, but it wasn't clear how many drivers could even get there.
Traffic crawled across a slickened Tennessee River bridge over a waterway swollen out of its banks. Some areas of the state had received as much as 6 inches of rain since Sunday, prompting flood warnings and watches across a wide area.
Scores of schools, businesses and government offices as far south as metro Birmingham pushed back their opening times for Friday because of the threat of icy roads after freezing temperatures overnight.
Officials closed NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville because of the threat of slippery roads. Engineers postponed an outdoor rocket test to give workers time to get home.
In northern Georgia, the heaviest snow was expected to fall in the mountains, with lighter amounts possible in parts of the Atlanta area. Schools in at least five counties in the northwest part of the state dismissed early Thursday.
The moisture may be welcomed by farmers in the Southeast, notably in those states hardest hit by the nation's worst drought in decades.
An update Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor showed that about 59 percent of the continental U.S. remains gripped by some form of drought. More than 91 percent of Georgia is in drought, as is about a third of Mississippi.
Climatologists and hydrologists have called winter precipitation — and lots of it — crucial in breaking the grip of drought and restoring moisture to soil and pastureland.