ATLANTA (AP) — A winter storm stalking the South disrupted a new governor’s inaugural ceremonies in North Carolina, triggered hundreds of fender benders in Tennessee and led shoppers to empty out shelves of bread and milk.
Road workers manning 12-hour shifts rushed to pre-treat roads as states of emergency were declared in Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas as the storm closed in amid threats of snow, sleet, freezing rain and gusting winds.
Winter storm warnings were issued for parts of Alabama and Georgia, including Atlanta, and into the Carolinas and part of Virginia. Schools canceled classes in several states. Officials warned that their Southern cities, with far fewer snowplows than up north, could grind to a halt with even a thin coat of ice or snow.
The winter mess was blamed for hundreds of fender benders and other non-injury crashes, some involving school buses, on Nashville roads coated by 1 to 2 inches of snow early Friday. Nashville’s city school district ordered classes to start as schedule but had to hastily call early dismissals as police reports of non-injury crashes multiplied. All students were later transported safely home.
“We apologize,” Nashville Schools Chief Operating Officer Chris Henson said. “We realize that it’s been very frustrating for everyone. And the timing was very unfortunate, as far as the weather change.”
In North Carolina, the storm threat sent incoming Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and his invitees scrambling to the Executive Mansion ballroom for an abridged swearing-in ceremony Friday. A larger outdoor ceremony Saturday organized for thousands had to be scrapped.
“Consider yourselves the chosen few,” Cooper jokingly told family, friends and well-wishers after his 20-minute oath-taking.
Lauren Rathbone, manager of a Public Hardware store in Durham, North Carolina, estimated the store sold nearly 7 tons of ice melt in 50- and 10-pound bags, along with hundreds of sleds and shovels. Describing the mood of customers, she said: “Up until about 10 o’clock: Happy, excited, and ‘at least I got my stuff.’ After 10 o’clock: ‘Why the hell ain’t you got anything?’”
In Atlanta, where memories of a catastrophic snow and ice storm in 2014 are still fresh, city leaders pleaded with motorists not to venture out onto slick highways. The earlier storm brought traffic to a standstill on metro Atlanta freeways, and office workers were forced to spend the night in their cars in gridlock. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed organized early dismissals Friday to avoid a repeat of the 2014 traffic jam.
At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest airport, Delta Air Lines on Friday announced that 350 flights had been canceled ahead of the storm. “We never close,” airport spokesman Reese McCranie said. “This is something we train for throughout the entire year.”
A mix of rain and sleet was expected across parts of Georgia Friday. Two to 4 inches of snow could cover much of the state by Saturday morning, forecasters said. Snow-removal trucks and dozens of road workers from south Georgia were moved north to help clear roads.
Freezing rain was expected in Alabama, the National Weather Service said.
Shoppers were out in force seeking staples like milk, bread and eggs.
By the time Justin Fetty, 31, of Hampton, Virginia, made it to a Food Lion, every brand of bread that he was familiar with was gone. “You had to buy like weird stuff,” he said, at a loss describe exactly what kind of bread he purchased. “But my daughter needs her PB&Js. You can’t make them with tortillas.”
Nancy Nusbaum, 54, of Norfolk, Virginia, stocked up at the grocery store and then a wine store, getting two cases of wine for all the friends she expected to help her weather it out.
“Right now, it’s just me,” she said with a laugh, noting her husband was in Florida. “But I’m stocking up for all my friends who are going to come and check on me.”
Her dog Jenny, a lab mix, also had just died and Nusbaum had just picked up her ashes, now in a bag on the car’s backseat. “I gotta get through this somehow,” Nusbaum added.
The storm was blamed for one death Thursday in Kentucky when a motorist drove off a curve on a snow-slickened road.
Winter weather was also slamming parts of the West, prompting some dangerous conditions but also drawing skiers to the slopes. In Colorado, heavy snow and strong winds raised the danger of avalanches. Snow in Boise, Idaho, reached 15 inches Thursday, breaking the previous snow-depth record of 13 inches from mid-1980s.