ATLANTA >> Snowfall shrouding much of the Deep South began tapering off early today, but freezing temperatures kept roads slick and thousands without electricity throughout the region while planes remained grounded at the world’s busiest airport.
Forecasters warned that moisture on the roadways could freeze and cause black ice to form. The National Weather Service said that while snow flurries would end by midday in areas including metro Atlanta, temperatures at or below freezing could cause transparent layers of thin ice to form on bridges and other elevated roadways.
The frigid temperatures behind a cold front combined with moisture off the Gulf of Mexico to bring unusual wintry weather to parts of the South.
Preliminary reports to the weather service showed up to 10 inches of snowfall in northwest Georgia, with 7 inches (18 centimeters) of accumulation in parts of metro Atlanta. Another 10 inches of snow was reported in Anniston, Alabama, while up to 7 inches (18 centimeters) were reported in Mississippi. Rare flurries were even reported in New Orleans.
“It’s very, very abnormal and rare that we would get totals like that this time of year,” said Sid King, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in the Atlanta area. “It’s really not even winter yet. I would not be surprised if we broke a lot of records.”
But the snow wasn’t expected to outlast the weekend. King said warming temperatures and sunny skies should melt most of it in time for shivering Southerners to return to work and school Monday.
Officials at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which holds the world record for annual number of passengers, said delays and cancellations were expected.
“Passengers should monitor their airline’s media channels for flight info,” the airport said via Twitter. Airport spokesman Reese McCranie said more than 400 flights were cancelled Saturday morning.
Not everyone was anxious to flee, though. Members of a central Florida family found their way to Atlanta specifically to witness the white drifts.
“It’s beautiful,” said Tim Moss, while his two sons and wife threw snowballs at each other near a McDonald’s parking lot early Saturday. He said the family – including his mother – made a spontaneous decision late Friday to leave 80-degree weather in Florida and drive seven hours to see snow for the first time.
“A lot of people who live here are staying in,” said Moss. “They don’t want to get out in it. But we want to get out and run around in it.”
The snowstorms knocked out electricity to thousands across the South. More than 382,000 homes and businesses were still without electricity Saturday in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Southern Pine Electric Co-operative has more than 12,000 customers without power Saturday in south Mississippi. The co-op had about twice that many outages at their peak, utility spokesman Brock Williamson said. Getting everyone’s electricity restored could take days.
“This may be the first time we’ve ever dealt with a winter storm that’s created so many outages,” he said.
A freeze warning was in effect Saturday for parts of northern Florida, southeast Alabama and southwest Georgia. The weather service said freezing temperatures can harm vulnerable plants and animals.
Snow had moved further east by Saturday, dumping up to 14 inches (35 centimeters) in parts of North Carolina before heading into the Mid-Atlantic. Virginia State police reported hundreds of crashes blamed on icy weather. Parts of the Northeast and New England are also expecting a share of the snowfall this weekend.