Winter weather is coming, but will Gainesville be covered with ice or with snow?
That's the big question forecasters are facing as residents, state agencies and schools across North Georgia prepare for a winter storm weather experts predict will arrive Sunday night and last through Monday.
"It's a changing situation," said Jason Deese, meteorologist with the National Weather Service located in Peachtree City. "We're monitoring it very closely."
As of Friday night, forecasters expected 4-6 inches of snow to blanket the Gainesville area. The unusual weather event is connected to a low pressure system tracking northeast out of the Gulf of Mexico, Deese said.
"The big question mark is if we're going to get a changeover to sleet and rain," he said. "That would mean less snow, but would create additional travel concerns because of ice."
Temperatures today are expected to decrease to the low 40s and upper 30s as light rain gives way to cooler temperatures "funneling" into the state from the Carolinas, Deese said, "which will set the stage for the winter storm."
Georgia's Department of Transportation began mobilizing for the weekend event early Friday. Salt supplies were increased in mountain counties expected to be hit hardest, DOT spokeswoman Teri Pope said.
In addition to weather reports, Pope said local law enforcement agencies help DOT officials assess when workers are needed to ease hazardous conditions on interstate and state routes.
"They are out on our roadways around the clock," Pope said. "We have a priority order, working the most-used roads first and most often to keep them safe and open for people to use. So we always encourage folks if they have to get out to stick to the main roads like Interstate 985, Ga. 365, Ga. 369, Ga. 53."
Local schools Friday also were monitoring the storm's predicted impact.
Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said he did not expect any decisions about delays or closures to be made until Sunday. The ability of buses to navigate roads will be the major factor.
"Weather changes in this part of the country so rapidly," Schofield said. "We'll make the call as early as possible."
Merrianne Dyer, Gainesville City Schools superintendent, said when a winter storm is predicted, the school system stays in regular contact with the roads department and neighboring school districts to gather as many details as possible.
Schofield said decisions about school activities or sports are generally made on a case-by-case basis that day.
"If we cancel school, we won't have anything beneath a high school level activity that evening," he said.
However, if temperatures rise in the afternoon, certain events may resume at the high schools.
Making the judgement whether it is safe for students to attend school can be a challenge for school leaders.
"It can be a hardship for families when we close school, who have jobs and responsibilities during the day," Schofield said. "We take this decision very seriously."
Inauguration activities in Atlanta for Gov.-elect Nathan Deal, however, are still on, Deal said in a Friday afternoon press conference. The swearing-in, though, may be moved to the House Chamber, a decision that will be made by 1 p.m. Sunday.
Deal advised those who plan to attend the events to "take safety as your first priority."
Staff writers Elizabeth Burlingame and Tasha Biggers contributed to this report