Winter storm hits South hard

Icy weather continues across Georgia and South Carolina, and commuters in Atlanta had to deal with at least one major street closing after water from a broken fire hydrant created hazardous driving conditions.


The broken hydrant was on DeKalb Avenue, used by many commuters as a route into the city from the east. Police barricaded the street Monday night after cars began skidding on black ice. In south Atlanta, commuters were hindered by a water main break.

In Savannah, officials urged residents to refrain from outdoor watering to avoid having water run off into the streets.

Overnight temperatures are expected to be in the teens to lower 20s through the weekend, with a chance of snow on Thursday.

Across the South and East, bitter cold was hitting Southerners with freezing temperatures that farmers fear could destroy crops.

The deep freeze was expected to last for at least the rest of the week.

The duration of the cold snap is unusual, especially in the South, where the weather is typically chilly for just a day or two before temperatures rebound into the 50s.

Waves of Arctic air pushed into central Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, where farmers were scrambling to save strawberries and tomatoes as temperatures dipped into the 20s and wind chills into the teens. Hard freeze warnings covered the region Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Charleston, S.C., was expecting subfreezing overnight lows all week. Parts of eastern Kentucky, western Virginia and West Virginia could see up to 3 inches of snow by Tuesday afternoon.

The weather caused hundreds of school closings and delays in Arkansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and the North Carolina mountains.

In Nashville, Tenn., where the overnight low was 12 degrees, police believe an 81-year-old man with Alzheimer’s Disease wandered outside in his bathrobe and froze to death, The Tennessean reported. His body was found early Monday.

Wrecks on icy roads killed at least two other people. A woman died near Mount Nebo, W.Va., when she lost control of her pickup Sunday. And in Washington, D.C., a man died after his car ran off the road Sunday and plunged under a sheet of ice covering a creek.

Homeless shelters, especially in the Southeast, braced for a crush of people and said they would not turn anyone away.

Reginald Richardson, of Columbia, hates shelters but said this might be the week he caves in and spends a few nights.

“Yes, Lord, it has been cold,” said the 55-year-old, who has been homeless on and off for the past 25 years. “It got so cold last night, I thought about sleeping in a trash can.”

Instead, he stayed in a hospital lobby for a few hours until he fell asleep and was kicked out into the 20-degree weather.

In Oakland, Md., about 1,400 homes lost power with temperatures near zero. Many people shivered through the night until crews using torches could thaw frozen switching equipment, Allegheny Power spokesman Todd Myers said.

Todd Shaffer, 33, borrowed a blanket from his parents next door.

“I woke up in the middle of the night still shivering,” he said.

Two boilers at a state prison in Union Springs, Ala., stopped working over the weekend, said Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett.

He said one of the boilers should be repaired later Monday or Tuesday and a replacement boiler should be online by Wednesday. Portable heaters are being used but don’t address a lack of hot water at the prison that houses about 1,300 inmates, he said. Temperatures Monday night were expected in the high teens.

In Florida, farmers are keeping a close watch on their crops, and Georgia Tech and Iowa football fans visiting Miami for the Orange Bowl might want to bring a jacket to the game on Tuesday night.

National Weather Service forecaster Andy Tingler said temperatures are expected to drop to around the mid-40s by the end of the game.

Tingler says South Florida residents shouldn't expect any relief from the cold soon. He says the unseasonably chilly weather is expected to continue through Friday and temperatures are expected to dip again over the weekend as another cold front moves through the area.

Florida farmers prepared for a long week trying to protect their crops. In Polk County – between Tampa and Orlando – temperatures were in the high 20s and strawberry farmers turned on sprinklers to create an insulation of ice for the berries.

“The problem now is that we have a weeklong freeze predicted,” said Ted Campbell, executive director for the Florida Strawberry Growers Association. “It’s an endurance test.”

Parts of central Florida could see lows below freezing nearly every day this week. Even Key West isn’t immune. Temperatures there the next couple of days are expected to barely creep above 60 degrees with a stiff north wind – nowhere near average highs in the 70s that draw winter tourists.

Places like Birmingham, Ala., and Charlotte, N.C., will see temperatures above freezing for just a couple of hours a day all week long. Many Southern homes aren’t built to handle that type of cold, with uninsulated pipes and heat pumps that will have to run all the time just to keep things barely comfortable.

The phones were already ringing off the hook Monday at an agency in Greenville, S.C., that uses federal grants to help people with their heating bills.

“I’m very worried, especially for those who are not accustomed to seeking assistance,” said program coordinator Betty Cox.

Firefighters are also bracing for more calls this week. Five people died in a fire Friday in rural Plymouth, Mo., likely caused by an unattended fireplace, while three people were killed Saturday in Honea Path, S.C., when either a space heater or a stove started a fire in a mobile home.

“It’s cold and folks are trying to do whatever it takes to stay warm,” said David Berry, a volunteer fire chief in Alabama.



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