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Storms clobber much of the U.S.

Utahns can expect rain or snow as a new front nears

SHARE Storms clobber much of the U.S.

ATLANTA — A hard freeze overnight left roads in the South even more treacherous after snow and sleet caused power outages, snarled traffic and prompted South Carolina's governor to call up the National Guard to help stranded drivers.

A winter storm stretching from Louisiana to Virginia caused hundreds of traffic accidents, killing at least eight people.

Power was out in parts of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.

The storm had dumped 4 to 7 inches of snow in areas of North Carolina by Thursday, and up to a foot was possible in the northeastern part of the state by the end of the day, the National Weather Service said. Nine inches fell in Virginia, and other states were expecting more.

South Carolina's 64,000 state employees were told to stay home Thursday. Gov. Jim Hodges activated 100 National Guard members Wednesday night to assist marooned motorists, while police responded to more than 900 accidents across the state.

The storm also wreaked a bit of havoc in Utah, where droves of Atlanta-bound passengers were told Thursday morning their flights had been canceled. "It's supposed to stop snowing there this afternoon, so flights should pick up," a Delta Air Lines attendant in Salt Lake City said.

Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport — the world's busiest — canceled 300 flights Wednesday and 430 more on Thursday. Airport officials launched 12 special de-icing pads for departing planes, which resulted in a two-hour wait before arriving planes could get to the gates.

In Tallahassee, Fla., more than 170 people crammed into a shelter to escape the cold. "They're on the floor, they're in the dining room in sleeping bags, on mats," shelter director Mel Eby said. "We're putting them in any nook and cranny we can find."


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Related stories:

Winter storm sweeps through U.S. South

Winter storm continues to pound South; dry throughout Great Plains

In the central part of the country, a ridge of high pressure over southern Texas was expected to build, bringing partly cloudy skies and dry and warmer conditions throughout the Plains.

In the West, scattered rain showers were predicted for Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and in areas of central and southern California.

Utah is expected to get "a modest little storm" sometime Thursday afternoon, with the bulk of snow at 1 to 2 inches in the valleys and 4-8 inches in the mountains falling after midnight. Highs Thursday are forecast in the upper 30s, with overnight lows in the mid-to-upper 20s, said Michael Conger, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City. The storm should start to dissipate Friday, but it also is expected to get colder, with overnight lows Friday at 10 to 15 degrees along the Wasatch Front.

The Southeast suffered spotty power outages in the region, including 30,000 South Carolina Electric & Gas customers who lost electricity because of sleet and freezing rain, spokeswoman Mary Green Brown said.

Buddy Merrill, a regional manager for Georgia Power Co. in Columbus, Ga., said workers braced for more headaches Thursday. "Ice is a much bigger problem than the snow," he said. Georgia transportation officials deployed long-dormant snow trucks, spreading fine gravel and salt on major roads to prevent accidents. Bridges in the central part of the state were especially dangerous, spokeswoman Karlene Barron said.

In Aiken County, S.C., two women died within about an hour of each other when their cars skidded on ice and were struck by oncoming traffic. Two traffic deaths also were blamed on snow-covered highways in southern Mississippi, said Highway Patrol dispatcher Heather Sullivan. Louisiana state police closed parts of I-10 and I-55 because of accidents.

"People here don't know how to drive when it's raining," Mike Mason said in Montgomery, Ala. "If citizens of Montgomery can't handle wet roads, how will they handle an icy one?"

Montgomery reported 4 inches — the most in that city since a blizzard nine years ago dumped half a foot. Snow and sleet in Alabama fell to within about 100 miles of the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, and a freeze warning was posted along the coast for Thursday. Parts of southern Mississippi recorded 3 inches of snow.

Some businesses closed for the day, extending the New Year's holiday, and South Carolina state employees in Columbia were sent home around noon.

"This is beautiful," June Carlson said as she dodged snowballs from her 4-year-old daughter, Rachel, at an ice rink in Atlanta. "We just got back from New York. There was no snow at all up there, and this is what we came home to. We're thrilled."


Contributing: Norma Wagner