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Shutdown: Thursday warmer but melting could take awhile

POSTED: February 13, 2014 11:20 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

A pedestrian walk along Academy Street on Wednesday morning as snow blows around Gainesville.

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Cabin fever? Get ready to stay put a little longer, as the area’s deep freeze turns to thaw.

A slight warming trend should begin today, forecasters say, but melting could take awhile, as the Hall County area has been hit this week with wave after wave of snow and sleet.

The storm has produced a flurry of government, school and business closings. They will continue to keep doors closed today.

Even the Northeast Georgia Health System wasn’t completely open. All of its Northeast Georgia Physicians Group clinics, except its Urgent Care centers, were closed.

Residents woke up Wednesday to snow blanketing the region, making travel difficult, if not impossible.

The snow tapered off by midday but was expected to be followed by another blast of up to 6 inches.

Still, “we have been lucky with this event due to all snow and no real ice accumulation,” said Capt. Scott Cagle, Hall County Fire Services spokesman, following a Hall County Emergency Management Agency meeting.

But that doesn’t mean residents should take lightly the wintry blast, which has produced power outages across a wide swath of Georgia.

“Our crews are working diligently in every county, focusing on interstates and four-lane state routes,” said Department of Transportation District Engineer Bayne Smith. “This allows us to keep major roads open that benefit the most emergency traffic.”

Early Wednesday, there was heavy snow accumulation on roadways in Hall, Banks, Forsyth, Habersham, Lumpkin, Towns, Union and White counties, among others throughout the state.

“We just can’t work every route when conditions are this perilous,” Smith said. “Our priorities have to be primary routes, the interstates and four- or five-lane state routes. Please do not multiply the hazards by driving unless it is an emergency situation.”

Snow blanketed roads minutes after plowing, DOT officials said.

And even that work got dangerous. A DOT dump truck plowing snow slid off Ga. 60/Thompson Bridge Road at Ga. 136/Price Road in North Hall and another one off Ga. 115 in White County. Neither driver was injured.

“GDOT drivers are trained to drive in winter weather,” according to a DOT Facebook post. “Our trucks are specifically equipped for winter weather and they are having trouble.”

Emergency calls were few early, but Hall County Fire Services personnel worried they would increase if people try to get out and explore.

Authorities had a “low call volume so far due to citizens staying off the roads,” Cagle said.

In closing county offices today, Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton said officials “continue to urge residents to stay off the roadways if at all possible for their own safety and to allow our crews the opportunity to monitor area roadways and respond accordingly during these extreme weather conditions.”

In Flowery Branch, city administrative offices will be closed again today.

“Looks like we are still due some more snow,” said Bill Andrew, city manager. “So our closing (of) offices (today) still stands.”

Andrew said the city’s public works department was making progress midmorning on scraping, and that the roads were coming along reasonably well, he said.

“We are holding our own with rock and calcium chloride,” he said.

There were no major issues with police patrol, according to Flowery Branch Police Chief David Spillers.

Although progress on street clearing has been productive, “please remind all that we are still under a state of emergency, and citizens should refrain from all nonessential driving,” Andrew said.

Flat Creek Baptist Church Pastor Mike Taylor said church members have been asked to check on the elderly, but he’d received no reports of issues so far.

Taylor, who serves as a chaplain for Hall County Fire Services, said he kept in contact with Cagle overnight Tuesday.

“They were in the command center, watching the weather develop,” he said. “Long hours for those in fire and law enforcement.”

Just before noon, Jackson EMC reported only 10 customers among its approximate 40,000 as affected by a power outage, and by midafternoon Wednesday, that utility’s outage map showed all customers online. The electric cooperative’s staff was available around the clock to ensure power lines remained intact and operational.

The weather forced Don Carter State Park to go from being a recreation area to a “staging area” for first-responders from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Georgia Forestry Commission, said Matt Owens, the park’s assistant manager.

“We do have guests on-site and are in close communication with them,” he said. “We are watching for anyone in need and are prepared to assist.”

Because roadways were less crowded, Georgia State Patrol worked just a few accidents, said Trooper Jonathan Munger, spokesman for Gainesville-based Post 6.

“We have not had any serious injuries or fatalities on the roadways,” he said. “I think everyone is adhering to the state of emergency.”

As far as patrol shifts, “we have troopers out ... around the clock and will until this clears up.”

Times regional reporter Lisa Laskey contributed to this report.



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