Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal extended a state of emergency Tuesday to 88 of Georgia’s 159 counties, including Richmond, Columbia and Burke. Words such as “catastrophic,” “significant” and “historic” were being tossed around by meteorologists across the state.
“This could be one for the record books,” state climatologist Bill Murphey said of the storm, which could bring rain, sleet, ice and possibly snow.
He compared it to similar storms in 2000 and 2005 that saw strong low pressure systems resulting in ice storms.
According to the National Weather Service in Columbia, the winter storm warning will be in effect through Thursday morning.
Most area school systems in Georgia and South Carolina announced closings for today, and many businesses are following suit.
Diane Johnson, a spokeswoman for Augusta Regional Airport, advised travelers to check the status of their flights on the
airport’s Web site before driving to the airport. By 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, most flights already had been canceled or were running on delays. Atlanta also was experiencing a substantial number of canceled flights.
“We do still have some flights landing or departing, but the vast majority have been canceled,” Johnston said.
A rain-and-sleet mix was expected to start Tuesday night and turn to ice as temperatures fell below freezing. Meteorologists were predicting about 1 inch of accumulation.
“It’s a dangerous amount,” said Kim Campbell, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
Conditions will remain icy throughout the day, with temperatures expected to reach only 32 degrees. Winds are expected to cause problems with trees and power lines after ice accumulates.
Murphey said the Interstate 20 corridor between Atlanta and Augusta will be especially “treacherous” for travel.
The ice should end Thursday morning as temperatures rise above freezing.
There might even be a little snowfall at the tail end of the pressure system, Murphey said.
“We haven’t had an ice storm event in a long time, so the impacts could be significant,” he said.
Emergency management teams in Richmond and Columbia counties spent Tuesday preparing for a storm they expected to be worse than snow that fell in late January.
Pam Tucker, the director of Columbia County Emergency and Operations Division, said motorgraders and backhoes have been placed across the county. Generators have been delivered to two places, and others are on standby.
Other items such as salt, rock and message boards are all sitting on go.
Richmond County sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Redmon said the sheriff’s office has identified several roads that could ice over, but there will not be any pre-emptive closures. Deputies will monitor the area throughout the next two days and will be prepared to close the roads at the first sign of trouble.
“(Ice) is a lot more detrimental to conditions than snow itself,” he said, comparing the upcoming weather to the snow in January. “No matter what experience you have. You can’t control your vehicle.”
Redmon said the state Department of Transportation will have one crew dedicated to Richmond County during the forecast period of bad weather and will pretreat the interstate, state routes and flyovers.
“Hopefully, (the DOT) will get a grip on it before it becomes too bad,” Redmon said.
Elevated roads, such as John C. Calhoun Expressway, or roads with a high incline, such as Windsor Spring Road from Meadowbrook Drive to Tobacco Road, typically become too icy for cars.
Roads with a significant slope are especially slippery and drivers could find
themselves unable to stop sliding until they reach the bottom.
“The best advice I can give anybody is, if you don’t have to be out in it, stay home,” Redmon said.
All commercial traffic, such as semi-trucks, will be diverted from traveling to Atlanta through Interstate 20.
According to the Georgia DOT, the big rigs traveling westbound will be detoured at Exit 183, which will take them south on U.S. 221 though Harlem and Wrens.
There will be staging for commercial trucks at locations along Interstate 20. Each location will accommodate about 200 trucks.