ATLANTA — Drivers got caught in monumental traffic jams and abandoned their cars Wednesday in North Carolina in a replay of what happened in Atlanta just two weeks ago, as another wintry storm across the South iced highways and knocked out electricity to more than a half-million homes and businesses.
While Atlanta’s highways were clear, apparently because people
learned their lesson the last time, thousands of cars lined the
slippery, snow-covered interstates around Raleigh, N.C., and short
commutes turned into hours-long journeys.
As the storm glazed the South with snow and freezing rain, it also
pushed northward along the Interstate 95
corridor, threatening to bring
more than a foot of snow Thursday to the already sick-of-winter
mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
At least nine traffic deaths across the region were blamed on the
treacherous weather, and nearly 3,300 airline flights nationwide were
The situation in North Carolina was eerily similar to what happened
in Atlanta: As snow started to fall around midday, everyone left work at
the same time, despite warnings from officials to stay home because the
storm would move in quickly.
Soo Keith of Raleigh left work about a little after noon, thinking
she would have plenty of time to get home before the worst of the snow
Instead, Keith, who is three months pregnant, drove a few miles in
about two hours and decided to park and start walking, wearing dress
shoes and a coat that wouldn’t zip over her belly.
With a blanket draped over her shoulders, she made it home more than
four hours later, comparing her journey to the blizzard scene from the
movie “Dr. Zhivago.”
“My face is all frozen, my glasses are all frozen, my hair is all
frozen,” the mother of two and Chicago native said as she walked the
final mile to her house. “I know how to drive in the snow. But this
storm came on suddenly and everyone was leaving work at the same time. I
don’t think anybody did anything wrong; the weather just hit quickly.”
Caitlin Palmieri drove two blocks from her job at a bread store in
downtown Raleigh before getting stuck. She left her car behind and
walked back to work.
“It seemed like every other car was getting stuck, fishtailing, trying to move forward,” she said.
Forecasters warned of a potentially “catastrophic” storm across the
South with more than an inch of ice possible in places. Snow was
forecast overnight, with up to 3 inches possible in Atlanta and much
higher amounts in the Carolinas.
As the day wore on, power outages climbed and the dreary weather came in waves.
Ice combined with wind gusts up to 30 mph snapped tree limbs and
power lines. More than 200,000 homes and businesses lost electricity in
Georgia, South Carolina had about 245,000 outages, and 100,000 people in
North were without power. Some people could be in the dark for days.
As he did for parts of Georgia, President Barack Obama declared a
disaster in South Carolina, opening the way for federal aid. In Myrtle
Beach, S.C., palm trees were covered with a thick crust of ice.
In Atlanta, which was caught unprepared by the last storm, streets
and highways were largely deserted this time. Before the first drop of
sleet even fell, area schools announced they would be closed on Tuesday
and Wednesday. Many businesses in the corporate capital of the South
shut down, too.
The scene was markedly different from the one Jan. 28, when thousands
of children were stranded all night in schools by less than 3 inches of
snow and countless drivers abandoned their cars after getting stuck in
bumper-to-bumper traffic for hours and hours.
Matt Altmix walked his Great Dane, Stella, in Atlanta because “even in the snow, you still have to do your business.”
“I think some folks would even say they were a little trigger-happy
to go ahead and cancel schools yesterday, as well as do all the
preparation they did,” Altmix said. “But it’s justified.”
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who was widely criticized over his handling of the last storm, sounded an upbeat note this time.
“Thanks to the people of Georgia. You have shown your character,” he said.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory urged people to charge their
cellphones and find batteries for radios and flashlights because the
storm could bring nearly a foot of snow in places such as Charlotte.
“Stay smart. Don’t put your stupid hat on at this point in time.
Protect yourself. Protect your family. Protect your neighbors,” McCrory
Kathy Davies Muzzey of Wilmington, N.C., said she hid the car keys
from her husband, John, on Tuesday night because he was thinking about
driving to Chapel Hill for the Duke-UNC basketball game. He has missed
only two games between the rivals since he left school in the late
“He’s a fanatic — an absolute fanatic,” she said.
For the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, the heavy weather was the
latest in an unending drumbeat of storms that have depleted cities’ salt
supplies and caused school systems to run out of snow days.
The nation’s capital could get up to 8 inches of snow. New York City
could see 6 inches. Other sections of eastern New York were expecting 10
to 14 inches.
In normally busy downtown areas of Atlanta, almost every business was
closed except for a pharmacy.
Snow blanketed the ground around the
tombstones at a historic cemetery in Decatur, including the graves of a
Confederate private and a delegate to the Secession Convention.
Amy Cuzzort, who spent six hours in her car during the traffic
standstill of January’s storm, said she would spend this one at home,
“doing chores, watching movies — creepy movies, ‘The Shining’” — about a
writer who goes mad while trapped in a hotel during a snowstorm.
In an warning issued early Wednesday, National Weather Service called
the storm “catastrophic … crippling … paralyzing … choose your
Meteorologist Eli Jacks noted that three-quarters of an inch of ice would be catastrophic anywhere.
However, the South is particularly vulnerable: Many trees are allowed
to hang over power lines for the simple reason that people don’t
normally have to worry about ice and snow snapping off limbs.
Three people were killed when an ambulance careened off an icy West
Texas road and caught fire. A chain-reaction crash shut down the
four-lane Mississippi River bridge on Interstate 20 at Vicksburg, Miss.,
and a tanker leaked a corrosive liquid into the river. No one was
On Tuesday, four people died in weather-related traffic accidents in
North Texas, including a Dallas firefighter who was knocked from an I-20
ramp and fell 50 feet. In Mississippi, two traffic deaths were