Wintry mix threatens wide swath of Southern U.S.

ATLANTA -- Snow was falling across parts of the Deep South early Friday, causing Southerners to panic and rush toward the grocery store even as forecasters predicted any accumulations would melt quickly.

The forecast called for a mix of rain and snow across several Deep South states. Parts of Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi reported snow flurries before dawn. In Georgia, at least a dozen school systems closed ahead of the wintry weather.

"It's the first snow of the season and any time you even mention snow in the South, you're going to get people a little panicky," said David Nadler, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's office south of Atlanta.

Forecasters said ground temperatures were warm enough that the storm should bring only a fleeting brush with winter. Still, the threat of even a half inch (12 millimeters) of snow was cause for alarm in a region that doesn't see regular snowfall.

The National Weather Service said a half inch to an inch (12-25 millimeters) of snow is forecast across many areas of the South by Friday night. Winter weather advisories have been posted for parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas. The advisories were issued for cities including Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Hattiesburg, Mississippi; and Birmingham, Alabama.

Weather service meteorogist Kent McMullen said the first reports of snow came in the north Georgia mountains. Snow also was reported falling early Friday in the suburbs north of Atlanta, with drizzle reported in other parts of the state.

In Atlanta, the streets were wet before daybreak as the morning commute began, but temperatures remained in the 40s well above freezing. The forecast called for rain and snow most of the day, changing to snow on Friday night.

"There's a lot of uncertainty right now" about just where the snow could fall and in what amounts, Nadler cautioned.

Forecasters said the biggest chance for snow was along the Interstate 85 corridor from Alabama crossing Georgia through Atlanta and into South Carolina once the temperature begins falling. Temperatures by sundown Thursday had already begun to dip in Atlanta, where tailgating football fans shivered and huddled around small barbeque grills atop downtown parking decks before a night game between the NFL's Atlanta Falcons and the visiting New Orleans Saints.

For Friday, Nadler said, temperatures in the Atlanta area were expected to range from 35-40 degrees (1-4 Celsius) Friday morning with little fluctuation the rest of the day.

"We're not expecting temperatures to drop below freezing until sometime Friday evening," Nadler said.

The weather service says accumulations of up to 2 inches (51 millimeters)are expected in west Georgia northeast to the mountains, with 3 inches (76 millimeters) to 4 inches (102 millimeters)possible in higher elevations.

The weather service warned that black ice was possible on roads Saturday morning with low temperatures of 20 degrees (-6. Celsius) to the lower 30s.

Highs are expected to reach the 40s by Saturday afternoon with mostly sunny skies.

Georgia road crews took no chances ahead of Friday's morning rush hour and pre-treatedbridges and overpasses late Thursday with a briny water-and-salt mix against any snow or ice.

Bill Shelton, road maintenance director in suburban Cobb County, northwest of Atlanta, said the brine could be used on roads 48 hours ahead of any precipitation.

"The cost to do the whole county, every bridge and overpass, is probably $100 worth of salt," he said Thursday. "It is worth it to be proactive and keep our roads safe for the traveling public."
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