FRANKFORT, Ky. — It’s the South’s turn to suffer from the snow, freezing rain and sleet in a storm that brought back memories of one from the same time a year ago.
After weeks of snow in the Northeast, winter weather had moved through Arkansas and Kentucky and was headed east. While even small amounts of frozen precipitation can bring the region to halt, the worst was yet to come: temperatures in the single digits in areas where electricity was threatened by coatings of ice on power lines.
The storm arrived on Presidents Day, when many schools and businesses were already closed. But the day isn’t a state holiday in North Carolina, so schools let out early Monday and by the afternoon officials were canceling classes today. College campuses, including from Appalachian State University in the western part of the state and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, canceled afternoon classes Monday.
In central Kentucky, home to much of the state’s thoroughbred industry, horses kept warm by galloping through the deep snow, pausing occasionally to shake it off from their thick winter coats. Ned Toffey, general manager of Spendthrift Farm in Lexington, said the horses enjoy running in the snow because it gives them a nice cushion as opposed to the harder, packed earth.
Roads were brined and parking lots salted as officials tried to avoid a disastrous repeat of last year’s February storm, when rush-hour traffic and a thin coating ice combined to leave people either stuck in their cars or their cars abandoned in roads as they walked home in Atlanta and Raleigh, N.C. That storm dumped as much as 22 inches of snow in the North Carolina mountains and pelted the eastern part of the state with ice, much as was expected with the 2015 version.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday shut down all non-mandatory state government operations in Wake County in the early afternoon before any precipitation had fallen. He also declared a state of emergency and issued executive orders designed to streamline any storm cleanup. He encouraged supervisors elsewhere in the state to use their discretion in sending employees home.
“Let’s hope that we’re over-prepared and underwhelmed by this storm,” McCrory said Monday.
On Monday night, he said the forecast had worsened with more snow and ice expected in the central part of the state. The National Weather Service said the storm could be crippling.
Georgia officials took no chances, bringing in more personnel to the state operations center and pre-treating roads with a mixture of salt and water. Atlanta was expected to get rain, dodging any icy or snowy conditions. Up to a quarter of an inch of ice could accumulate in a handful mountainous northern counties.
In South Carolina, wrecks and power outages were reported Monday night in the Upstate as a storm brought freezing rain to the area.
Road crews and utility workers spent most of the day preparing for the weather, treating roads and putting crews on standby.
By sundown Monday, every city in the Upstate was reporting freezing rain, sleet or snow. And the ice was quickly making roads slippery. As darkness settled, more than 80 wrecks were being reported, according to the state Highway Patrol.
A winter storm warning was in effect for 10 western South Carolina counties that are near or border North Carolina. The winter weather was expected to stay well north of Columbia and west of Florence, according to the National Weather Service.
Although the snow had halted in the Northeast, the weather was bitterly cold. New York City came close to breaking a 127-year-old record when the temperature in Central Park hit 3 degrees, just 2 degrees above the record set in 1888, said Jeffrey Tongue, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said the latest snow storm left one person dead, apparently due to a heart attack while shoveling snow. A partial roof collapse at an eight-building apartment complex in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, left 500 to 700 people looking for shelter. In New Jersey, a 66-year-old woman who had been drinking at a benefit was found dead in the snow, just two doors from her home. Firefighters working on a blaze in Philadelphia left behind a building coated in icicles. No one was hurt.
West Virginia was getting hit hard by the snowstorm when a train carrying crude oil derailed about 30 miles from Charleston. At least one tanker went into the Kanawha River and nearby house caught fire. It wasn’t clear if the winter storm had contributed to the crash.
After the storm marched across North Carolina, where almost all of the 100 counties were under some sort of weather alert, it was expected to move through the Mid-Atlantic and yes, back into the Northeast.
As McCrory did, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear urged people to stay home if possible as parts of his state were buried under a foot of snow.
Arkansas, where temperatures plummeted from the 70s on Saturday to highs in the 30s a day later, had nearly 30,000 people without power at the peak of the storm. But Arkansas safety and transportation officials said Monday the fallout from sleet and snow wasn’t as bad as officials thought it would be. Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said troopers didn’t report any fatal or serious crashes in the morning hours as temperatures dropped to about 25 degrees in Little Rock. Officers were primarily responding to vehicles sliding off of the road, he said.
Freezing rain fell as far south as Mississippi, where more than 15,000 customers were without power Monday evening.
Road crews and utility workers in South Carolina spent most of the day preparing for the weather, treating roads and putting crews on standby. The state Highway Patrol said more than 80 wrecks had been reported in six Upstate counties by sundown Monday. In the Washington, D.C., region, officials asked motorists to stay off the roads, and hundreds of plows were out ahead of the storm, which was expected to dump up to 10 inches in Virginia.
John Moore, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Memphis, said he believes Tennessee was prepared in part because of the embarrassing scene that paralyzed Atlanta last year. “We got the word out ahead of time to let people know, that even if we’re not expecting a lot, still check your forecast before you leave home in the morning because stuff can change so quickly,” he said.