Snowstorm batters South, knocking out power and blocking roads

Heavy, wet snow downs power lines in North Carolina

A powerful winter storm that blew across the Gulf Coast and into the Carolinas and Virginia left many roads impassable and tens of thousands of people without power Thursday, especially in hard-hit North Carolina.

The wet, heavy snow dragged down power lines and toppled trees, blocked roads and cut power to as many as 230,000 people in North Carolina overnight. By Thursday afternoon, about  180,000 customers were still without power as emergency crews struggled to repair downed lines.

The storm brought snow, sleet and freezing rain across a 1,300-mile swath from Texas to the Chesapeake Bay, causing hundreds of traffic accidents and closing schools and government offices.

Between 3 and 7 inches of snow fell in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area in central North Carolina, with totals of up to 9 inches farther north. The low pressure system moved into Virginia, bringing at least 4 inches of snow to Richmond and up to 9 inches elsewhere in the state. The system also brought 1 to 3 inches of snow to the Washington area.

Authorities in several states begged people to stay off the roads as crews worked to clear fallen trees and repair power lines.

“It’s not often that the entire state of North Carolina sees significant snowfall like we’ve seen this week," North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said Thursday.  “While it’s beautiful, it can also be dangerous, causing downed trees, power outages and treacherous driving conditions."

McCrory spoke to reporters at the state Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, which a spokeswoman said was operating on generator power because it, too, had lost electric service.

"We had more power problems than we anticipated due to the curveballs of the weather pattern," McCrory said.

State transportation officials warned of  “black ice" forming Thursday night and Friday morning as slushy roads freeze overnight.

"Black ice will continue to be a problem in the coming days," said North Carolina Public Safety Director Frank L. Perry. "The best way to stay safe is to stay off roads."

Schools, universities, businesses and government offices were closed Thursday in several counties in central North Carolina. Traffic was light on most roadways.

Students at North Carolina Central University in Durham were moved into temporary shelters after they lost power at their dormitories, according to a spokeswoman for the state Emergency Operations Center.

The storm system dumped more than 10 inches of snow in northern Alabama, with lower totals in north Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina. There were reports of scattered power outages across the Southeast and the Gulf Coast. 

In Alabama, emergency workers and National Guard troops helped rescue motorists stranded on Interstate 65. Several thousand power outages were reported in the state, where one person was reported injured when a tree fell on a mobile home in Marion County.

In Mississippi, which received up to 10 inches in some areas, a 22-year-old University of Mississippi student was reportedly killed Wednesday after being thrown from a sled. About 7,000 customers were without electricity Thursday.

In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency for 31 counties.

Officials in Atlanta tried to avoid a repeat of the "snowpocalypse" of January 2014, when the city became the butt of late-night jokes after 2 inches of show paralyzed the region, with colossal traffic jams and students forced to spend the night in schools.  On Wednesday, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 50 northern counties.

At least 6 inches of snow fell in northern Georgia, and about 2,000 customers lost power. Atlanta was hit with sleet and freezing rain, but very little snow.

"A lot of people, with schools closed and offices and businesses on staggered closings, just stayed home and off the roads," said Crystal Paulk-Buchanan of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

Deal, who was criticized for the state’s response to last year’s snowfall, said, "I believe the lesson we are learning . . . is that the public is willing to be a participating partner"  in staying off roadways during snowstorms.

Conditions were expected to improve Friday for much of the South and Gulf Coast, with high temperatures of 40 degrees and warmer predicted in many areas.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

3:47 p.m.: This report has been revised throughout for updates and additional details. 

It first posted at 6:26 a.m. 

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