'Devastating' storm blasts south, heads north

ATLANTA - More than 300,000 homes and businesses were without power in Georgia and the Carolinas as a fierce winter storm cut an icy swath Wednesday across much of the South.

The massive storm threatened to knock out power for hundreds of thousands more across the South before turning its sights on the Northeast. More than 100 million Americans are under some form of a winter storm warning, watch, or advisory, the National Weather Service said.

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"The storm is on track," weather service meteorologist Bruce Terry said. "That much freezing rain and sleet can be devastating. It will mean downed trees and power lines."

Georgia Power was reporting more than 126,000 outages, SCE&G 94,000 and Duke Power more than 83,000 on Wednesday.

The small solace: As the storm heads north and east, ice will give way to snow. Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia will see 4-8 inches of snow starting Wednesday night and all day Thursday, Terry said. New York and Boston can expect 3-6 inches. But areas north and west of all those cities could see a foot or more of snow before the nasty front rolls off the coast of Maine on Friday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it was sending 155 power generators to Georgia and 95 to Pennsylvania, which just last week saw almost 1 million people lose power in a storm. FEMA also deployed liaison officers to the state emergency operations centers in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Georgia and South Carolina.

The storm was all about the ice Wednesday. As it began accumulating on Atlanta-area roads, the state Department of Transportation said its crews were working to keep them open for essential travel. The region is a virtual ghost town. Most residents have stocked up on food and essentials. They are heeding the repeated, urgent warning of authorities and are staying home. All area schools, non-essential government operations and most businesses are closed.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency for 91 of the state's 159 counties as ice from sleet, snow and freezing rain is expected to cause massive power outages. He said the National Guard opened 65 emergency shelters, and seven more were open at state parks along Interstate 20.

Georgia Power had hundreds of lineman working and on call. Mobile showers, dining hall and kitchen have been set up in the Mall of Georgia's parking lot — although a kitchen worker said defrosting ribs when it's frozen outside has proven difficult.

Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport was operating on a minimal schedule Wednesday, with at least 2,200 flights canceled and only about 300 expected to operate.

The Georgia Department of Transportation was warning of "extreme black ice," more than 7 inches of snow across northeast Georgia and up to an inch of ice accumulation north and south of the Interstate 20 corridor.

"This is a very dangerous ice storm and we strongly encourage the public to stay off the roads unless it is an extreme emergency," said state DOT Commissioner Keith Golden.

Icy roads and downed trees were being reported in Augusta and other cities east and south of metro Atlanta. The weather in the region is expected to worsen throughout the day. "It's not unreasonable to expect that Atlanta—sometimes known as 'the city in a forest'— could lose a quarter of its trees in this storm," said meteorologist Eric Holthaus of Slate.

Eli Jacks, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said forecasters use words like "catastrophic" sparingly.

"Sometimes we want to tell them, 'Hey, listen, this warning is different. This is really extremely dangerous and it doesn't happen very often,'" Jacks said.

The storm, named Pax by The Weather Channel, is at least the third this winter to lash the South. Earlier in January, temperatures dropped to single digits as far south as Atlanta and Birmingham.


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