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Wintry weather tonight; no accumulations expected in Hall

Winter Storm Warning issued in Rabun, Habersham

POSTED: January 27, 2008 5:05 a.m.

Come back to gainesvilletimes.com throughout the day for weather updates.

A wintry mix may be in the stars for Gainesville late tonight. The National Weather Service is forecasting a 100 percent chance of precipitation and a low of 30 degrees for Hall County this evening.

"It might start out as a little bit of sleet and then change to rain, and as temperatures fall, maybe get a little bit of freezing rain. And then you could end up with some snow as everything gets colder," said meteorologist Kent Frantz.

Little or no accumulation of snow and ice are expected in Hall County and areas south of here.

But the National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning until 7 p.m. Thursday for Rabun and Habersham counties in northeast Georgia. An accumulation of one to two inches of snow and sleet is possible across the warning area, before the precipitation changes to freezing rain. Up to a quarter-inch of ice is possible in the warning area.

As schoolchildren pray for snow, Hall County public service departments are bracing themselves and public vehicles for inclement weather.

"We are ready and waiting," said Teri Pope, Georgia Department of Transportation Communications Officer. "We'll watch the weather (today) and make decisions based on what actually happens."

Pope said the 21 counties comprising the Northeast Georgia DOT region collectively have 106 snow plows, 110 dump trucks and 94 salt-mix spreaders at their disposal. Those 21 counties also have 4,488 tons of salt and 3,548 tons of stone stockpiled for a salt-mix solution in the event of a winter weather emergency.

Throughout Wednesday and Thursday, Pope said 360 Georgia DOT workers will be on-call in Northeast Georgia to work on assigned roadways near their homes.

"Whenever winter weather hits, we can be on the ground spreading our salt and stone mixture within an hour," Pope said. "Our mission statement is to keep the roads open and safe for you to use no matter what ... and that becomes harder for you to do during winter weather, especially in Northeast Georgia because of the bridges."

There are more than 750 bridges on the interstates and state roads of Northeast Georgia, Pope said, which ice over more quickly than roadways. Pope recommends that drivers approach bridges slowly during icy weather.

Local fire departments and law enforcements are also readying vehicles for Hall County's first widespread winter weather.

Major Jeff Strickland of the Hall County Sheriff's Office said 25 police cruisers can be outfitted with snow tires the department keeps on-hand within 90 minutes.

Hall County Fire Captain Scott Cagle said the fire department checks each of its fire trucks and ambulances every morning to ensure they all run smoothly. And when an icy mix is in the forecast, the department puts salt out on driving pads in front of stations to ensure it stays ice-free. All county fire engines and ambulances are regularly equipped with automatic snow chains under each unit that can be implemented at the touch of a button, Cagle said.

"We're going to keep a close eye on the weather," Cagle said. "If it gets bad, but we're not expecting it to, then we would activate the Emergency Operations Center at the fire department headquarters on Crescent Drive."

The EOC provides a location for county leaders, including school board, law enforcement and Georgia DOT officials to convene in order to initiate an organized response to severe weather.

Children attending Gainesville and Hall County schools will have to wait until Thursday morning to find out whether schools will start on time Thursday or if they will be delayed two hours or possibly even cancelled.

"Schools have an obligation, if we can, to open," Gainesville School Superintendent Steven Ballowe said.

"I make our decisions based on the safety of our buses. If we can make the rounds safely, then we'll bring our children to school."

Hall County Deputy Superintendent Gordon Higgins said Jewel Armour, Executive Director of Operations and Transportation, makes the call to delay or cancel county schools with Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield after they check roads for car and bus passability.

"They usually try to make the decision by six o'clock that (morning) so it can be broadcast on local TV stations out of Atlanta and local radio stations," Higgins said.




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