The South awoke Wednesday to a two-part Arctic mess that caused problems as far south as the Gulf Coast.
First came a thin blanket of snow and ice, then came below-zero wind chills and record-breaking low temperatures in New Orleans and other cities.
The snowfall sabotaged morning rush hour before it even began, sending cars crashing into each other on major thoroughfares. Officials urged people to stay off the roads if possible, and to bundle up if they ventured outside.
Thousands of schoolchildren and teachers got the day off because of treacherous travel and cold; cities canceled meetings and court sessions. Some businesses closed.
With temperatures hovering around 10 degrees, store clerk Susan Brown got to work an hour late in the northern Alabama city of Decatur. Snow and ice blanketed grassy areas and roadsides, she said, and neighborhood roads were much whiter than main highways.
“Traffic is moving along, but on side roads and residential streets it's pretty slick,” said Brown, who works at Holaway's Food Market. “As long as you stay in the tracks you're pretty good.”
Dairy farmer Will Gilmer bundled up for the predawn drive to the milking barn with the thermometer showing 7 degrees in western Alabama.
“It felt like single digits,” he said. “I probably had four layers on and then insulated coveralls and a heavy coat on over that. I made it OK except for my toes.”
Icy conditions hampered travel as far south as the Gulf of Mexico, with stretches of Interstate 10 closed in Louisiana and across Alabama's Mobile Bay. Ice pellets covered the tops of sago palm trees.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said on Twitter that he declared a state of emergency across the state “due to the winter weather and dangerous conditions.”
In Atlanta, snow covered icy sidewalks. Major thoroughfares usually full at rush hour were eerily quiet. Some cars drove through red lights rather than stop and risk sliding.
The blast of cold air shattered records early Wednesday in Louisiana and Mississippi.
It was 21 degrees before dawn in New Orleans, where icicles hung off a statue of jazz musicians in a fountain. The reading broke the city's record low for the date, which was 23 degrees in 1977.
In Mississippi, the temperature in Hattiesburg dipped to 13 degrees, breaking the previous record of 14.
Gov. Nathan Deal issued a state of emergency for 83 counties, spanning much of central and north Georgia. This line extends from Columbus to Macon to Augusta and northward. State government will be closed Wednesday in the affected areas for non-essential personnel.
Forecasters said up to 4 inches could fall in central North Carolina as the system pushed north, with a couple of inches expected farther east.
Northwestern South Carolina could get up to 2 inches of snow, the weather service said, and Gov. Henry McMaster's office postponed his first State of the State address because of the weather.