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Snow, freezing rain, ice threaten to cripple North Ga.

Winter storm could be 'catastrophic,' forecasters say

POSTED: February 12, 2014 9:27 a.m.
NAT GURLEY/The Times

A bust of George Washington at Washington Street and Green Street is half-covered with wet snow early Tuesday morning.

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UPDATE: Many roads have accumulation this morning and emergency officials repeated warnings to stay home today.

"As of 4:45 a.m., Hall County Fire Services has not responded to many calls but we expect this to increase once citizens get up and try 'to explore,' said Scott Cagle, fire department spokesman and Emergency Managmemt Agency deputy director. "Once again we strongly encourage citizens to heed the warning of county officials to stay off the roads. This will help first responders perform their duties and to respond to true emergencies and keep unnecessary traffic free from the roadways."

Local and Department of Transportation crews have been out treating roads since Tuesday night 

The DOT listed the following icy areas where its crews were working as of 5:15 this morning: 

  • Forsyth County at the intersection of Ga. 53 and Ga. 306, Ga. 20 from Ga. 400 across the Chattahoochee River into Gwinnett County, Ga. 369 at Ga. 400
  • Bridges over Lake Lanier on Ga. 369 in Forsyth and a Hall counties
  • interstate 985 north of Exit 22
  • In Dawson County, Ga. 136 over Burnt Mountain has heavy snow accumulation. Crews are focusing on Ga. 53. 
 
The DOT is working with the Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia to post advisories and messages on some 250 electronic billboards across the state. Information will also be posted on changeable message signs in the metro area.
 
So far, Georgia Power and Jackson Electric Membership Corp. are reporting only a handful of outages in Hall.
 
"We're actually in good shape," said Bonnie Jones, Jackson EMC spokeswoman.

PREVIOUS STORY: As 1 to 3 inches of snow fell across Hall County on Tuesday, local public safety and government officials braced for the worst of the worst to come today.

Snow, sleet and freezing rain are forecast to arrive in the early morning and continue into Thursday.

Officials gathered Tuesday morning at the Emergency Operations Center in Gainesville for the latest briefing from the National Weather Service. The snow was expected to taper off by Tuesday evening, giving road maintenance and public works crews a brief respite to treat interstates, thoroughfares and neighborhood streets with salt, sand and gravel.

But the weather service reported that precipitation was forecast to arrive once more before sunrise today as cold air pushed in from the east, bringing with it freezing temperatures and the prospect of “crippling” ice.

Sleet and freezing ice is expected across Hall County throughout the day before a wintry mix, including the likelihood of more snow, returns in the evening hours and continues through Thursday morning.

Sustained winds of 15 to 25 mph are forecast throughout today, with gusts up to 30 mph. The prospect of heavy winds coupled with freezing rain and ice accumulation could knock down tree limbs and result in massive power outages, the weather service warned.

The winter precipitation is expected to move out of Hall County by noon Thursday, but not before leaving between 4 to 9 inches of snow, and perhaps a quarter-inch of ice, in its wake.

In response to the latest forecasts, Hall County and Gainesville public safety officials along with local power companies said they would beef up personnel and resources to mitigate the storm’s impact on residents.

The threat of black ice on roadways accumulating today and Thursday throughout the county brought an “added sense of urgency,” said Hall County Fire Services spokesman Scott Cagle.

Wrecks were minimal during the day Tuesday, but officials warned motorists to avoid traveling, if possible, as the storm and accumulation intensified overnight.  

“I think for the most part, here in Hall County anyway, people are staying off the roads,” Cagle said. “We think (Tuesday) was maybe just a rehearsal. It definitely appears ... the morning will bring the worst.”

Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Mecum declared a state of emergency to heighten awareness and concern about the storm’s impact.

“This seems to be much worse than we had a couple weeks ago,” Mecum said.

In Gainesville, police began stepping up patrols and increased on-duty personnel to respond to accidents and calls for service. Additionally, snow tires were added to patrol units, and extra 4-wheel drive vehicles were available to be dispatched.

“We’re looking at a worst-case scenario,” said Gainesville Police Department spokesman Kevin Holbrook.

Gainesville Public Works Director David Dockery said the city’s road maintenance crews would be working around the clock until the storm passes. But worries remain about the impact freezing rain and ice will have on city streets.

“Scraping is marginally effective once ice freezes on the roadways,” Dockery said. “Our goal is to spread the mixture and try to keep the road from freezing. We started the storm with 35 truckloads of salt and gravel and received additional supplies (Monday).”

Gainesville and Hall County public works crews also hit trouble spots, including parts of North Hall, Old Flowery Branch Road, Springdale Road and Beverly Drive.

Jimmy Hightower, Hall’s roads maintenance director, said the county has “equipment ready” if conditions get worse.

“We are expecting some downed trees with wind gusts mixed in with the snow,” he said.

Just 200 Georgia Power outages were reported throughout the state Tuesday afternoon, but that number could grow tremendously over the next day or so.

Carol Boatright, Georgia Power spokeswoman, said the utility has been working several days to make sure it is prepared.

“We’ve asked for and received aid from other utilities, and we’re staging them where we think most of the problems will be,” Boatright said.

On Tuesday, it looked as if customers in East Georgia could be hit the hardest.

“But it’s a shifting target,” Boatright said.

Jackson Electric Membership Corp. also was preparing for the worst.

“We’ll be making sure our trucks are fully stocked, fueled and ready to roll,” said Jim Smith, vice president of engineering and operations. “All of our line crews and right-of-way crews will be on call and dispatched to any outages that may occur.

“During a major outage, our first priority is restoring the lines that will return service to the largest number of customers with each repair. This means our workers usually try to restore a main line before restoring power to individual customers.”

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama declared an emergency for the state of Georgia, calling in federal resources to help deal with the impact of the storm.

Staff writer Jeff Gill contributed to this report.



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