A major winter storm threatened a wide swath of the U.S. South again, prompting hundreds of school and business closures from Texas to North Carolina on Tuesday and warnings for motorists to stay off the roads ahead of potentially "paralyzing ice."
Widespread power outages could result from the latest blast of winter weather to hit the region in recent weeks, with 1 to 4 inches of snow predicted for northern Alabama and Georgia and into the Carolinas, the National Weather Service said.
The start of a possibly "paralyzing ice storm" could bring up to a half inch of ice in several Southern states, forecasters said.
"This has the potential to be a catastrophic event," said the weather service's office in Peachtree City, Georgia.
President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration for Georgia, and governors in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi also declared weather emergencies in their states.
Officials were quick to make plans for dealing with the weather effects after being criticized for inadequate preparation before a storm two weeks ago. The earlier rare blast of wintry weather in the region crippled Atlanta area roads and forced more than 11,000 students in Alabama to spend the night at their schools.
State transportation workers in North Carolina sprayed nearly 2 million gallons of salt brine on roads ahead of the storm to help keep the snow and ice from sticking, the governor's office said.
In extreme north Georgia, some roads, including parts of Interstate 75, were already impassable because of the snow and ice early on Tuesday, said Charlene Thrower, spokeswoman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
In contrast to the storm that paralyzed Atlanta last month, traffic around the city was light on Tuesday as most schools and many businesses were closed in anticipation.
Pamela Maze, a 52-year-old teacher assistant in Atlanta, made a grocery store run on Tuesday morning but said she was not worried about the possibility of an ice storm.
"When I'm at home, I'm at home and I don't have to come back out," she said. "I think everyone should take their time and be safe, be careful."
HEAVY SNOW IN ALABAMA
Up to 5 inches of snow had fallen in north Alabama early on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. State transportation officials said the snow was heavier than expected in some areas and numerous roads were closed.
"Travel is hazardous throughout the state, and people should avoid traveling as much as they can," said Tony Harris, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Transportation.
In Mississippi, Ripley resident Quess Hood said his family was staying indoors after getting about 2 inches of snow Monday night.
"I tried to move through the driveway a little while ago and wasn't real successful," he said.
Hundreds of schools and businesses in North and Central Texas were closed or had delayed openings on Tuesday, including more than 200 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area alone because of icy conditions overnight that caused several accidents and traffic jams.
A Dallas firefighter died Monday night while responding to an accident on an icy road. William Scott Tanksley, 40, was killed when a car lost traction on an overpass and hit a parked car, which then hit Tanksley, pushing him off the overpass and onto a highway, media reports said.
A winter weather advisory was in effect for the Dallas, Houston and Austin areas until Tuesday night, with forecasters warning of freezing rain later in the morning and ice accumulating on bridges and overpasses.
About 1,200 U.S. flights were canceled and another 1,600 delayed on Tuesday, with the highest number of travel disruptions reported at Southern airports in Atlanta, Charlotte and Dallas, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.com.