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Snow, Ice Cover the South, but Novelty Wears Thin

Weather: The second day of a major storm strands fliers and motorists. National Guard is called to help in South Carolina.

January 04, 2002|EDITH STANLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — A treacherous winter storm laid a thick blanket of snow and ice across the South on Thursday, downing power lines, causing car accidents and prompting South Carolina's governor to call up the National Guard to help stranded drivers.

The second day of the storm dumped as much as a foot of snow in places that go years without seeing a flurry. The storm was blamed for at least nine deaths.

South Carolina reported more than 900 storm-related car accidents. National Guard troops, equipped with four-wheel-drive trucks and military Humvees, were sent to rescue motorists stuck on impassable roads. About 30,000 households in the state lost power after utility lines were knocked down.

"Any time you have a significant amount of snow or ice, it's an emergency," said Jay Reiff, spokesman for South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges. "People here are just not used to this."

A hard freeze made things worse Thursday morning, and another freeze was expected overnight Friday. Warm days, like those forecast for the weekend, can be a mixed blessing because fast-melting snow turns to ice when temperatures drop at night.

But not all is bleak. Kids in Alabama learned how to build snowmen and pack a good, hard snowball, and South Carolina state employees, with unexpected days off Thursday and today, played snow football in downtown Columbia.

The storm crept across a huge swath of the South, from Louisiana to Virginia, crippling several major airports, including the nation's busiest, Hartsfield Atlanta International.

Almost 5 inches of snow had fallen in Atlanta and temperatures remained in the low 30s. Flights at Hartsfield were reduced from 180 an hour to 40, and some travelers were stranded on planes as long as eight hours.

Downtown Atlanta was nearly deserted Thursday. On the hill of Andrew Young International Boulevard, a couple of elderly tourists, in tennis shoes and jackets too light for the cold wind, stepped gingerly between icy patches on the sidewalks.

"Be careful. It's slippery," a passerby yelled. The two nodded. And kept going.

Conditions were even worse in North Carolina, where many parts of the state were covered in a foot of snow.

"That's a huge amount of snow for North Carolina," said Tom Carlson, a meteorologist for Weather Central Inc.

Bryan McFeaters, assistant director of Wake County Emergency Management in Raleigh, N.C., said many people are hunkered down indoors.

"At 10 o'clock this morning, I walked out on one of the main streets downtown and looked left and right and saw one person," he said Thursday.

There was even snow in the Panhandle in Florida, with flurries spotted in Pensacola, on the Gulf of Mexico.

A slow-moving low-pressure system is causing the precipitation, and with temperatures 15 to 20 degrees below average, what normally would be rain is snow.

The forecast for the weekend looks much better, with sunshine and temperatures in the 50s predicted for much of the South. But another storm system is expected to blow in Sunday night.

*

Times staff writer Jeffrey Gettleman contributed to this report.

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