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Atlanta area braces for ice storm; 4 die in Texas



By CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY

ATLANTA (AP) - The city dodged the first punch of a dangerous winter storm Tuesday, but forecasters warned of a potentially "catastrophic" second blow in a thick layer of ice that threatened to bring hundreds of thousands of power outages and leave people in their cold, dark homes for days.

The streets and highways in metro Atlanta were largely deserted as people in the South's business hub heeded advice from officials to hunker down at home, especially after the snow jam two weeks ago saw thousands of people stranded on icy, gridlocked roads for hours when 2 inches of snow fell.

"Last time I was totally unprepared, I was completely blindsided," said Lisa Nadir, of Acworth, who sat in traffic for 13 hours and then spent the night in her car when the storm hit Jan. 28. "I'm going to be prepared from now on for the rest of my life."

Nadir was telecommuting from home Tuesday and she had kitty litter in her trunk in case she needed to put it down on icy roads for extra traction.

The forecast drew comparisons to an ice storm in the Atlanta area in 2000 that left more than 500,000 homes and businesses without power and an epic storm in 1973 that caused an estimated 200,000 outages for several days. In 2000, damage estimates topped $35 million.

Eli Jacks, a meteorologist with National Weather Service, said forecasters use words like "catastrophic" sparingly.

"Sometimes we want to tell them, 'Hey, listen, this warning is different. This is really extremely dangerous and it doesn't happen very often,'" Jacks said.

This kind of language was first used in May 1999 for a tornado in Moore, Okla. Forecasters called it a "tornado emergency" to make sure the public knew it was not a typical tornado.

"I think three-quarters of an inch of ice anywhere would be catastrophic," Jacks said.

But the Atlanta area and other parts of the South are particularly vulnerable because there are so many trees and limbs hanging over power lines. When the ice builds up on them, limbs snap and fall, knocking out power.

"There is no doubt that this is one of Mother Nature's worst kinds of storms that can be inflicted on the South, and that is ice. It is our biggest enemy," Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said.

While only light rain fell in Atlanta on Tuesday, cities 40 miles northwest saw 2 to 3 inches of snow. The rain was expected to turn into sleet and freezing rain overnight.

More than 200 utility vehicles from Florida, North Carolina and other Southern states gathered in a parking lot near one of the grandstands at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The state had more than 22,000 tons of salt, 70,000 gallons of brine 45,000 tons of gravel and brought in 180 tons of additional salt and sand. The goal was to make sure at least two interstate lanes were available in each direction. Then material would be used on the most heavily used roads off the highways. Officials were also considering re-routing traffic in extreme circumstances.

"It's certainly going to be a challenge for us. Ice is definitely different than snow," said state Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden. "It is very difficult for us to plow ice."

Hundreds of Georgia National Guard troops were on standby in case evacuations were needed at hospitals or nursing homes, and more than 70 shelters were set to open. President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Georgia, ordering federal agencies to help the state and local response during the storm. Deal said a priority for that request was generators.

Metro Atlanta, the economic engine of the South with the headquarters of Fortune 500 companies including Home Depot, UPS, Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola, resembled a ghost town. Schools were closed and grocery store shelves were bare of milk and bread.

State and local officials, chastened by tough criticism for their slow response to the Jan. 28 storm, were eager to prove they could handle winter storms.

On Monday, before a drop of freezing rain or snow fell, Deal declared a state of emergency for nearly a third of the state and state employees were told they could stay home. He expanded the declaration Tuesday to more than half the state's counties.

Dustin Wilkes, 36, of Atlanta, was one of the few who headed to the office Tuesday. His parking lot was mostly deserted.

"I think they probably overreacted," Wilkes said. "It's to be expected."

Atlanta has a painful past of being ill-equipped to deal with snowy weather. Despite officials' promises after a crippling ice storm in 2011, the Jan. 28 storm proved they still had many kinks to work out.

Around the Deep South, slick roads were causing problems. In North Texas, at least four people died in traffic accidents on icy roads, including a Dallas firefighter who was knocked from an Interstate 20 ramp and fell 50 feet, according to a police report.

In northeastern Alabama, two National Guard wreckers were dispatched to help clear jackknifed 18-wheelers on Interstate 65. Gov. Robert Bentley said one lesson learned from the storm two weeks ago was to get those wreckers organized earlier.

Michelle Owen, of Mount Pleasant, Tenn., was driving north on Interstate 65 when she hit an icy patch on a bridge. Her sport-utility vehicle and a trailer it was pulling fishtailed, sending her 18-year-old son Tyler through the rear window and on to the car that was atop the trailer.

"He wound up on top of the Mustang we were hauling," Owen said. He suffered only minor injuries.

Parts of northeast Mississippi could see up to 4 inches of snow. South Carolina, which hasn't seen a major ice storm in nearly a decade, could get a quarter to three-quarters of an inch of ice and as much as 8 inches of snow in some areas.

Delta canceled nearly 2,200 flights on Tuesday and Wednesday, most of them in Atlanta.

Georgia Looks To Avoid Embarrassment In Second Storm

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ernestsuter February 12 2014 at 10:19 PM

lol... my best friend moved to Georgia to get away from the snow in April... Guess it followed him down there!

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Linda February 12 2014 at 11:39 AM

Wherever you live ... if it's COLD ... is it's ICY ... if it's SNOWY, make sure all animals have protection. Bring them inside if you can (most favored scenerio for domestic animals)... give them shelter if you can't. Straw in a shelter with the opening covered goes a long way to save a life. In high temp. areas ... shelter and plentey of clean water (if you can't bring them inside) helps ward off heat stroke. And remember, no matter where you live: if you take Rover for a ride in the car... on a 78-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car can soar to between 100 and 120 degrees in just minutes, and on a 90-degree day, the interior temperature can reach as high as 160 degrees in less than 10 minutes. So, overall, it's probably best to not take Rover in the car AT ALL when it's hot.) Regardless of the type of weather where you live ... PROTECT THOSE ANIMALS!! Thank you.

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Helen February 12 2014 at 9:31 AM

good luck all, stay safe!!

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kingsway February 12 2014 at 9:01 AM

YES.................I asked............will the storm hit Clayton or Dillard Georgia????

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kingsway February 12 2014 at 9:00 AM

Storm to hit Dillard, GA

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kingsway February 12 2014 at 9:03 AM

and then HIGHLANDS North Carolina????

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kingsway February 12 2014 at 9:10 AM

So from Dillard it will then be RT# 106 and into Highlands NC...........right or wrong.???

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kcarthey February 12 2014 at 6:25 AM

Looks like an article I read a few years ago has been realized. The New Sun Belt is in Central and South America. I can't imagine leaving the frigid areas of say Minnesota for the winter only to spend it in the snowbound cities of Dallas and Atlanta. It should be around 90 with a nice breeze here on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica today.

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deanconstanting February 12 2014 at 6:19 AM

...first photo says: "Two" Alabama DOT employees work to free up a sand truck from highway...but it should say: "One" Alabama DOT employee works "hard" to free up a sand truck from highway, while the "Yellow jacket" is scratching his coconuts through his pockets and enjoys taking pictures...:-)

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dal February 12 2014 at 6:16 AM

If you are on a well you need to take precautions and store water, bottle water for drinking and fill a bath tub with water so you can use it to flush toilets and wash, when and if the power gets cut you won't be able to use your electric pump on the well.

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kmdavis511 February 12 2014 at 6:14 AM

There is nothing "historic" about this winter. We have had harsh winters before, and we will have them again (for the next decade or so, for those keeping track). The only reason these storms have been "catastrophic" is because we have been spoiled by the last 10-15 years of mild winters (brought on by active solar cycles, NOT man-made global warming). We have government entities who have not budgeted for harsh winters, a populace who has become overly dependent on government, and due to a political movement disguised as science as a society we believe winter has landed on the dust heap of history. Surprise!!! We once again discover that Nature is stronger than we are, and always will be.

Get over it, people, and get used to it and PREPARE for it! This is winter, back by natural demand. And don't believe all the ninnies out there who are trying to tell you we have "never seen anything like this before!" I grew up in winters like this.

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patric9956 February 12 2014 at 6:13 AM

Weren't the ice caps supposed to be gone by now and polar bears extinct? I thought I'd be growing a palm tree outside my Illinois home instead of seeing Mississippi frozen over and the great lakes frozen also. This has been the coldest winter in my 54 years on this planet. I guess we need Al Gore to stop by and regale us with inconvenient truths about global warming - all his hot air might just take the edge off of the cold. I wonder if a mighty blast from Al would have prevented that ship full of climate scientists from getting frozen in the summer ice down under. You know, the Jehovah's witnesses used to regularly predict the end of the world - at least they had enough smarts to stop doing that.

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