The governors of Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Tennesseee declared emergencies for their states. By late Sunday, snow and ice had covered the ground in Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala., with 2 to 3 inches reported west and northwest of Atlanta.
"We don't have weather events like this," Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in an on-air interview with CNN. "I think the amount of snow we're getting is probably a 10-year event for the city of Atlanta."
Georgia was expecting up to 6 inches of snow in the northern mountains from the powerful storm that also dumped snow and ice in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas. Forecasters said the front could also bring sleet and freezing rain lasting into Tuesday in Georgia.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said workers had readied snow and salt trucks to help clear icy roads, and he asked all residents to stay home Sunday night and Monday unless it is imperative that they have to travel.
Mississippi officials warned motorists that ice was accumulating on roads and bridges in many counties, creating hazardous driving conditions.
The National Weather Service posted winter storm warnings from east Texas to the Carolinas.
The snow in downtown Atlanta was coming down heavily, coating sidewalks and streets. Cars were having trouble on the slippery streets and highways all over the South, with numerous slideoffs, though there are no immediate reports of serious accidents. At times, the snow was mixing with sleet around Atlanta, said National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Beasley.
By Sunday night, snow was falling from Memphis, Tenn., to Birmingham, Ala., to Atlanta.
Forecasters expected the most extreme conditions in Mississippi and northern Louisiana overnight with the possibility of heavy ice accumulation in places, including in the Atlanta metro area where snow was coating the ground.
"And since it's going to be pretty cold over the next few days, we could see whatever accumulates sticking around for a few days," said NWS meterologist Daniel Lamb.
Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas were expecting icy weather overnight. Around Birmingham, besides a few inches a snow, about a tenth of an inch of ice was also coating the roadways, the NWS said.
The storm forced Georgia officials to move Monday's inauguration of newly elected Gov. Nathan Deal from the state Capitol steps inside to the shelter of the House chamber. The inaugural gala was scrapped to keep supporters off treacherous roads.
Thousands of flights have been canceled at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Delta Air Lines canceled 330 flights starting about 8 p.m. Sunday and another 1,400 flights Monday. AirTran Airways canceled 14 flights for Sunday and another 270 for Monday, spokesman Christopher White said. Reed said officials did not want people to be stranded at the airport or on planes.
Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport spokesman David Magana said 200 flights, or about a quarter of the schedule, were canceled in anticipation of the weather.
In eastern Tennessee, the Weather Service said 4 to 6 inches of snow could fall by Sunday evening, with the heaviest hitting early Monday.
Churches across the South canceled Sunday night services. The worship leader at one prepared to use a web camera to broadcast an abbreviated worship service over the Internet from his home since members couldn't make it to church.
"I'll just do one or two acoustic songs, something like that, just to keep it going until next week," said Ben Nelson of Helena United Methodist Church, located in suburban Birmingham.
Numerous schools and colleges called off classes for Monday in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.
Auburn University students must go somewhere other than campus to watch the Tigers play in the national championship bowl game Monday. The university has canceled all viewing parties and other events planned as the state prepares for severe winter weather.
Associated Press writers Carol Druga in Atlanta, Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Ala., and Schuyler Dixon in Dallas contributed to this story.