A potentially historic winter storm threatens to coat Georgia with ice, knocking out power and grounding thousands of planes, before bringing snow to Northeastern cities including Washington and New York.
New York may get 1-3 inches (3-8 centimeters) of snow tonight, and Washington as much as 4 inches, according to the latest update by the National Weather Service at 6:51 a.m. in New York. Atlanta is forecast to receive as much as half an inch of ice today.
“When the snow comes, it is going to come in fast and furious,” said Brett Anderson, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. “The initial batch of snow that comes in before any changeover is going to be quite heavy.”
Across the U.S., 2,619 flights were canceled for today after 1,348 flights were scrubbed yesterday, said FlightAware, a Houston-based tracking service. About 5,500 homes and businesses from Arkansas to North Carolina were without power, utility websites show.
Governors in seven Southern states declared emergencies as the ice and snow moved eastward from Texas. The storm is expected to strengthen off the coast of North Carolina and drop heavy snow from Virginia to Maine.
The worst-hit areas may be the Interstate 81 corridor from western Virginia into central New York, as well as northern and western New England. Anderson said those areas may receive as much as 12 inches of snow, with some places getting 18 inches.
“The ski resorts, no doubt, will be happy with this type of storm,” he said.
Closer to the coast, the storm will start as snow before changing to rain, Anderson said. While the rain may hold down snow accumulation, the rapid onset will still mean heavy snowfall for the cities along the Interstate 95 corridor from Washington to Boston.
The snow moving to the Northeast is expected to leave a “catastrophic” blanket of ice across the South, especially Georgia, the weather service said.
“Let’s just start by saying this winter storm may be of historic proportions for the area,” the agency said in a forecast analysis. “We’re looking at significant snowfall totals north and significant, crippling ice totals, especially along the Interstate 20 corridor.”
Ice will make travel in central Georgia impossible, and downed tree limbs might cut power for days, the agency said.
As many as 300,000 homes and businesses in the state will probably lose power, according to Tim Oram, the Meteorological Services Branch chief for the weather service’s southern region in Fort Worth, Texas.
“At this point, everything is lining up,” Oram said. “It’s from a once-in-every-10- to a once-in-every-20-years type of event. There’s pretty high confidence we’re going to see some pretty high accumulations of ice in the Georgia area.”
The worst of the ice will probably stretch from Atlanta to Columbia, South Carolina, and Fayetteville to Raleigh in North Carolina, according to Anderson. “It is going to be a bad situation down there,” he said.
While Atlanta and eastern Georgia may get three-quarters of an inch of ice before the storm passes tomorrow, areas in the northern part of the state are expected to receive as much as 9 inches of snow, the weather service said.
Along with the ice will come winds of at least 30 miles (48 kilometers) per hour, which are almost certain to bring down trees and power lines, Oram said.
Late last month, 2.5 inches of snow in Atlanta stranded almost 25,000 students at their schools or in buses and shut down the region’s highways, trapping thousands of motorists. There were 1,254 accidents, 134 people injured and at least one death caused by the storm.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal issued a state of emergency for 45 counties on Feb. 10 and 43 more yesterday, urging residents to stay off the roads. Schools in the Atlanta area have been closed through today.
President Barack Obama declared an emergency in northern Georgia, freeing up federal funds to deal with the aftermath of the storm. Governors in Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Virginia also issued emergency declarations.