The run on milk, bread, canned goods and other basic supplies Friday afternoon at J&J Foods on Browns Bridge Road in Gainesville prompted even management to help restock the shelves as customers came in droves ahead of a major snowstorm.
“We’re pretty busy, as you can see,” said General Manager Ashley Kaleta, adding that she was even helping out at the register where each of the checkout lines were half a dozen shoppers deep or more.
With an estimated 4 to 6 inches of snow expected to fall on Northeast Georgia this weekend, Hall County officials have “all hands on deck” to respond to what may be the most significant winter storm to hit since 2014.
“A lot of people focus on this event starting today, but we’ve actually been preparing starting back in the fall,” David Kimbrell, director of the Hall County Emergency Management Agency, said at a storm briefing Friday morning. “We feel like we’ve gone over as much as we can to be ready.”
Predicted snow totals had risen from initial estimates of 3 to 4 inches, with as much as 8 inches estimated in higher elevations around Dahlonega and Blairsville.
Heavy bands of snow are likely across Hall County and the region, dumping as much as 2 to 3 inches of snow within an hour or two, according to the National Weather Service.
Snow began falling in downtown Gainesville around 9 p.m.
The Weather Service also warned of the potential for ice accumulation in the early evening hours, which could be deceptive beneath a snowpack come Saturday morning and set the stage for potentially treacherous road and travel conditions, power outages and downed tree limbs in a worst-case scenario.
Temperatures are forecast to hang around freezing all day Saturday and drop into the teens overnight, which will keep what falls from melting quickly.
Ken Rearden, Hall County director of public works, said low temperatures and wind chill factor could be a “game-changer” if it results in icy roads.
“There will be some bad spots in this county and everybody needs to take caution and stay home if they can,” he added.
Local government officials urged residents to stay home if at all possible.
At The Way ministry and mission in Gainesville, Jerry Deyton, founder and pastor, said he was turning the place into an emergency shelter for local homeless. Deyton said he had acquired 40 mattresses to place in the mess hall and offices of the mission, and while expecting the worst, intends to keep spirits high with games and television, warm meals and sermons.
Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency for 79 counties, including Hall, Dawson, Lumpkin, White and Forsyth.
The highest accumulations of snow should be within about 60 miles of the Interstate 85 corridor.
The Georgia Department of Transportation began pretreating roads at 6 a.m. Friday, mobilizing 12 brine tanks with a total of 69,000 gallons of salt water solution to spray on interstates and state routes in the Northeast Georgia region. DOT district spokeswoman Katie Strickland said the agency would transition to snow plows and salt and gravel spreaders once snow begins falling.
The county’s emergency operations center was to be activated at 7 p.m. Friday to begin coordinating agency responses to the storm.
Rearden said personnel from several county departments are tasked with various projects. For example, landfill workers and building maintenance will work to clear public spaces and parks.
“We’re one big family here in Hall and we all really work together,” Rearden said.
Walt Davis, Hall County director of road maintenance, said snow plows are ready to go and spreaders have been primed to pretreat major thoroughfares.
“We’re just waiting on the storm,” he added.
The county has more than 1,100 miles of road to maintain, with about 600 miles considered primary roads.
Davis said eight snowplows and four spreaders will be called upon to clear primary roads first before getting to neighborhood streets.
Jimmy Hightower, superintendent of road maintenance, said the county has a GPS tracking system in use to monitor where crews have responded in order to prevent overlap and improve the efficiency of response during and after the storm.
Fire Services Capt. Zachary Brackett warned motorists to take every precaution and stay off roads as much as possible.
Brackett said that if motorists should not call 911 if they spot a vehicle on the side of the road that has been marked with police line of fire tape. The tape indicates that emergency responders have checked and clear the vehicle for occupants.
Meanwhile, Gainesville Public Works crews were pretreating bridges, overpasses and some of the historically difficult streets in the city Friday afternoon with a crew of 16 employees working 12 hours shifts.
“We have 10 pallets of Calcium Chloride available, plus two in reserve, that will be mixed with gravel,” city spokeswoman Catiel Felts said.
Mayor Danny Dunagan cautioned residents to be careful and proceed with caution as the storm continues through Sunday.
“Details and travel information will be posted on our Facebook page, Gainesville Georgia Government, throughout the weekend,” Felts said.