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State of emergency declared for Hall due to weather

POSTED: February 11, 2014 2:00 a.m.

A winter storm warning for Hall and 44 other counties across the state prompted Gov. Nathan Deal to declare a state of emergency Monday in anticipation of heavy snow, sleet and freezing rain.

The National Weather Service forecasts that rain Monday night will turn to snow beginning early this morning and continuing into the evening. One to 3 inches of accumulation is expected, with some snow turning to sleet and ice, making roads hazardous for motorists.

A second wave of snow and ice is expected to accumulate late today and stretching into Thursday morning. The NWS forecasts an additional 2 to 4 inches of snow during this time. Temperatures are expected to remain in the mid-30s throughout the afternoon today before falling below freezing until Thursday. Winds of 5 to 15 mph, and gusts up to 25 mph, are forecast.

Gainesville and Hall County officials spent Monday preparing for the worst-case scenario, beginning with a meeting at the Emergency Operations Center that included representatives from public safety agencies.

The Gainesville public works fleet was to begin pretreating roads overnight, with four primary spreaders and snowplows handling the early workload. City officials report an additional spreader, one road scraper and three Bobcats are available for snow removal, as well.

“We are preparing to begin continuous operations at midnight,” said Public Works Director David Dockery. “We restocked our salt and gravel mixture after the storm two weeks ago.”

City road maintenance crews will work in two 12-hour shifts throughout the day, with 35 truckloads of materials, such as calcium chloride, available to treat roads. Additionally, the city has already placed orders for additional resources.

City fleets will focus on clearing main thoroughfares before proceeding to neighborhood streets, while the Georgia Department of Transportation will manage state routes in the city.

Teri Pope, spokesperson for the DOT District 1, which includes Hall County, said state routes would not be pretreated because of concerns about rain.

“We do not preload material because the salt can actually melt from the rain,” she added. “You don’t want to put it out too early and waste it.”

Pope said bridges and known trouble spots, however, would be treated with salt and stone in the early hours of the storm.

Countywide, public safety officials were preparing for the storm’s onslaught, and said they were as ready as ever after the lessons learned from the storm that struck two weeks ago.

Hall County Fire Services spokesman Scott Cagle said the Emergency Operations Center would open at 3:30 a.m., with additional personnel available in 4x4 vehicles to respond to calls while keeping operational units in service.

Cagle said the best-case scenario is that the storm brings only snow. Sleet and ice can complicate the response and result in more accidents, power outages and other problems.

“The ice is a little trickier to deal with,” he added.

Jackson Electric Management Corp. reported Monday its line crews, right-of-way crews and office staff would remain on call throughout the day to handle disruptions in service.

“During a major outage, our first priority is restoring the lines that will return service to the largest number of customers with each repair,” Jim Smith, vice president of engineering and operations, said in a statement. “This means our workers usually try to restore a main line before restoring power to individual customers. In the event of ice-related outages, we want our customers to know that we’re working as fast as possible to get the power back on as soon as possible.”

Hall County was to begin pretreating roads overnight, and will continue to respond to reports of trouble spots throughout the day. The county has eight tandem trucks equipped with snowplows and spreaders, an additional two single-axle trucks with spreaders, five motor graders and other equipment available. Additionally, 16 pallets of calcium chloride, which can be mixed with stone, are available to treat roads through Thursday.

Finally, the county will use an interactive real-time map at its operations center to locate and respond to accidents and calls for service, an idea that originated in response to the snowstorm that hit in January.

“Although we can never truly know the extent of what Mother Nature has in store for us, Hall County is as best prepared as we can be given what we know about the current weather forecast,” said county spokeswoman Katie Crumley. “... Our staff will continue to closely monitor conditions on area roadways and respond as necessary until the threat of inclement weather has ended.”

Deputy Chad Mann said the Hall County Sheriff’s Office was working closely with the Emergency Management Agency to coordinate its response to the storm. Patrol would be out in force monitoring road conditions and responding to accidents, Mann said, with all available resources to be used.

Meanwhile, some businesses in Gainesville were already feeling the impact of the storm Monday. The Home Depot on Dawsonville Highway saw a run on emergency equipment such as flashlights, lanterns and batteries.

“We’ve basically sold out of all heaters, ice melt ... and the generators are going pretty quick now,” said manager Reece Gilmer.

At J&J Foods on Jesse Jewell Parkway, customers poured in and out all day stocking up on the essentials, like bread and milk. Manager Chris Dewalt said the store had added personnel and increased orders to handle the rush on goods.

“People are more alert and aware this time around,” he said, adding that local residents are not taking this storm as lightly as they did two weeks ago. “We will be here to serve them.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Nathan Deal met with officials from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, Department of Transportation, State Patrol, Georgia Power and other agencies involved in the response to the storm. The state’s preparations come on the heels of a fiasco last month when snow and ice crippled much of metro Atlanta, leaving thousands of motorists stranded.

The Department of Transportation mobilized resources early Monday and dispatched extra salt, sand and gravel spreaders to metro Atlanta.

“We know how difficult it is to be precise,” Deal said of the weather forecast during a news conference Monday. “I would urge individuals to use their best efforts, as well.”



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