ATLANTA (AP) — Forecasters issued an unusually dire winter storm warning Tuesday for much of Georgia, but many residents already were heeding advice to stay home and off the roads, leaving much of metro Atlanta a ghost town during the usually busy morning commute.
The storm could be a "catastrophic event" reaching "historical proportions," the National Weather Service said in its warnings. Rain was falling Tuesday morning in Atlanta, with snow in north Georgia, and schools were canceled.
Dustin Wilkes, 36, of Atlanta, was one of the few who headed to the office. "It looks like this time it's not going to be bad until everyone's home," he said. He noticed his parking lot was mostly deserted.
It was a stark contrast to the storm that hit Atlanta two weeks earlier. Downtown streets of the South's business hub were jammed with unmoving cars, highway motorists slept overnight in vehicles or abandoned them where they sat, and students were forced to camp out in school gymnasiums when roads turned too treacherous for buses to navigate.
With many at home instead of work or schools, the biggest threat in the current storm could be power outages. Forecasters say they're likely to be widespread as ice builds on trees and power lines. The ice threat is expected to begin in Georgia overnight. As much as 9 inches of snow could fall in parts of north Georgia by Wednesday night.
Atlanta has a long and painful history of being ill-equipped to deal with snowy weather. Despite officials' promises after a crippling ice storm in 2011 that they would be better prepared next time, the storm that hit the area Jan. 28 proved they still had many kinks to work out.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal indicated on Monday that he and other state officials had learned their lesson. Before a single drop of freezing rain or snow fell, Deal declared a state of emergency for nearly a third of the state and state employees were told they could stay home if they felt conditions were too dangerous. Schools canceled classes, and Deal urged people who didn't need to be anywhere to stay off the roads. Tractor-trailer drivers were handed fliers about the weather and a law requiring chains on tires in certain conditions.