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January 28, 2014

Southerners warned of icy mess in days ahead

ATLANTA —

Across the South, residents stocked up on fuel and groceries, schools and offices closed, and road crews were at the ready as a storm moved in Tuesday from the central U.S., threatening to bring snow, ice and subzero temperatures to a region more accustomed to air conditioners and sunscreen than parkas and shovels.

Even with the timing and severity of the blast of freezing precipitation uncertain, officials from parts of Texas to southeastern Virginia warned motorists to stay off the roads. Popular warm-weather tourist destinations — Charleston, S.C.; Savannah; Pensacola, Fla.; Virginia Beach, Va.; and New Orleans — expected ice and snow over the next two days, rare occurrences in places that seldom even see prolonged sub-freezing temperatures.

At an Ace Hardware store in the north Georgia town of Cumming, snow shovels were in short supply, but manager Tom Maron said feed scoops – often used in barns – could be substituted. Workers expected brisk business, with patrons buying insulation, faucet covers, portable heaters and other cold-weather gear.

"We're fixing to put the ice melt out, and we've got plenty of sand here to mix in," Maron said shortly before dawn.

Much of Georgia was placed under a winter storm watch for Tuesday and Wednesday, with some areas forecast to see as much as 3 inches of snow. But Jason Deese with the National Weather Service said the snow totals would "matter very little in this situation because of the ice potential."

"Some parts of the state may end up seeing the greatest impact just because they get more ice than snow," he said.

In Mississippi, amid warnings about snow and ice, four people died when an early morning fire destroyed a mobile home in Itawamba County, near the Alabama border. Investigators believe a space heater was to blame. Sheriff Chris Dickinson said nine people were in the mobile home at the time, using the heater for warmth. 

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