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Winter weather: Rain today; freezing rain still possible

Nearly two inches of snow fell in Gainesville before rain came

POSTED: January 28, 2008 5:02 a.m.
This article will be updated as developments warrant.

It wasn't that bad, after all.

A flurry of snow that began falling in Gainesville late afternoon Wednesday mostly melted away by the morning, and forecasters said most of the precipitation on Thursday would fall as rain, although there remained a slight chance of freezing rain early before temperature rise above freezing. No additional accumulation is expected.

At 9 a.m. Thursday, the temperature in Gainesville was 32 degrees. It was expected to rise above freezing by mid morning, rising to a high of 38 degrees. Although officials were advising caution on the road, most roads were reportedly in good shape.

Hall County schools will be closed today. Gainesville City Schools were delayed two hours. Click here for a listing of other closings.

Gainesville got up to two inches of accumulation by 10 p.m. Wednesday, blanketing secondary roads and creating hazardous driving conditions. But Hall County Emergency Management Director David Kimbrell said the National Weather Service has advised him that the line of precipitation should end just about the time the mercury goes above freezing.

"I wouldn't think it would get much worse, unless the temperature doesn't go up like they say it's supposed to," Kimbrell said at 10:45 p.m. Wednesday, after Hall County and Gainesville department heads conferred with weather officials.

As of 10:50 p.m. Wednesday, the snow had largely changed over to sleet. Local public works and DOT crews were working the roads, which saw a smattering of cars running off into ditches, but no serious accidents.

Kimbrell cautioned that the hazardous driving conditions "are not instantly going to go away."

"There's still going to be some slick spots," he said.

But on Wednesday, people weren't taking any chances.

Like a lot of folks, Stephen and Tammy Null were eyeing the weather forecast with cautious optimism.

"You never know here," Stephen Null said, as he and his wife stocked up on propane, eggs and milk at the Gainesville Wal-Mart. "When (the forecast) says one thing, sometimes it does the other."

The National Weather Service forecast for Hall County changed dramatically from noon to 4 p.m., from a small chance of accumulation to the threat of as much as a half-inch of ice on tree limbs and power lines.

A winter storm warning was issued late Wednesday for Hall, Cherokee, Forsyth and Banks counties as snow continued to fall throughout the North Georgia area. The warning was cancelled in the overnight hours..

According to the National Weather Service, the Gainesville and surrounding areas received an accumulation of about 2 to 4 inches of snow, with more than that in higher elevations.

However, it didn't last for long, said National Weather Service Meteorologist Kent McMullen.

"We're expecting the snow to switch over to rain (during the night)," he said. "There's a possibility that will turn into freezing rain."

In fact, sleet already was mixing in with snow in parts of Hall County at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday

McMullen said the rain should be mostly over by the time residents wake up in the morning.

"It may even diminish to a drizzle late tonight," he said. "But that doesn't mean the roads will be clear ... It depends on how quickly it warms up."

A winter weather warning means significant amounts of snow, sleet and ice are expected or occurring and will cause hazardous driving conditions. Travel should be avoided.

The weather service predicts sleet and freezing rain over much of North Georgia through early this morning.

That, Hall County Emergency Management Director David Kimbrell said Wednesday afternoon, "would create quite a bit of problems."

Last time a major winter storm hit, the Nulls were without power for a week. Tammy Null was hopeful the band of wet weather hitting North Georgia in sub-freezing conditions Wednesday wouldn't bring those problems.

"I don't think it's going to stick," she said. "I hope it doesn't. Hopefully it will be done by (today)."

At hardware stores Home Depot and Lowe's Home Improvement, business appeared no heavier than normal on Wednesday afternoon, with one exception.

"We sold out of kerosene heaters and Ice Melt," said Lowe's manager Larry Griffith.

A rush of grocery shoppers fearing winter weather conditions was seen Wednesday morning at the J&J Supermarket on Limestone Parkway, where store managers tripled the order of milk in anticipation.

"We bumped up all our orders for (Wednesday)," store manager Jared Damera said.

As for business, "we are definitely up considering what we see normally on a Wednesday."

Damera estimated the store was seeing twice the traffic as usual, with folks buying milk, bread, soup and fire logs, along with a variety of everyday items.

"There's some mixed emotions right now," Damera said. "Some customers are thinking we're going to get something, others are just shopping like they normally would."

Georgia Power officials were optimistic that freezing conditions wouldn't cause widespread outages in north Georgia.

"Snow and sleet don't tend to cause as much trouble as freezing rain," Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday. "We're hopeful we'll avoid the worst of that. But we are definitely watching the situation closely to make sure we can respond."

One thing remained constant throughout the day: officials predicted that by 10 a.m. today, temperatures should rise above freezing and any remaining sleet, snow or freezing rain would turn into rain.

The Georgia Department of Transportation closed two roads Wednesday even before the snow started falling: the Ga. 180 Spur in Towns County and Ga. 384/Richard Russell Scenic Parkway in White County.

Both roads are customarily closed whenever the threat of winter weather approaches because of their high elevation, DOT spokeswoman Teri Pope said.

"It's just too treacherous; we don't want anyone to get stuck on those roads," she said. "Those roads will close (Wednesday) and not reopen until this winter weather situation is completely over."

The DOT finished loading up 10 dump trucks with a salt and stone mixture shortly before noon Wednesday at its Gainesville regional office. Those trucks were to head out to Interstates 985 and 85 in the event of any accumulation, Pope said.

The DOT does not use sand to treat icy roads, but rather a de-icing mixture of three parts tiny "89 stone" and one part salt.

"Sand is not environmentally friendly, and frankly doesn't work as well as the salt and gravel," DOT Communications Director Vicki Gavalas said.

Each dump truck, outfitted with a snow plow in front and hopper in back, can carry approximately 8 to 12 tons of the mixture.

Hall County schools will be closed today. Gainesville City Schools were delayed two hours. Click here for a listing of other closings.

Staff writer Jeff Gill contributed to this report.




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