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Rare snow blankets South as East braces for storm

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - A powerful March snowstorm blanketed much of Alabama and then marched across Georgia on Sunday, forcing some flight cancelations in Atlanta as the East Coast braced for a potential pummeling.

Eastern seaboard cities along a corridor arcing through Washington, D.C. to Boston and beyond braced amid forecasts of potentially heavy snow accumulations early in the week as the storm began a trek up out of the Southeast.

Alabama was first up for a rare white blanketing for the South in March. Most roads there were clear, but snowfall totals ranging from 1 to 4 inches forced more than 210 churches in central Alabama to cancel morning services as a precaution. About 2 inches of snow covered Civil War statues in Montgomery.

"I think you can worship in this it's so rare," said Vonda Braswell, throwing snowballs in her front yard instead of putting on her Sunday best.

Scott Unger at the National Weather Service office in Birmingham said a winter storm warning was in effect until 3 p.m. Sunday mostly for several northern and eastern counties of Alabama - with much of the rest of the state under a winter storm advisory.

He said snow accumulations could reach up to five inches in some areas of Alabama, where some churches canceled Sunday services and cold, blustery winds whipped even the usually balmy Gulf Coast.

Michigan resident Wayne Letson fretted about sharing the roads with Southerners unaccustomed to winter weather as he drove through snowy Alabama toward Florida.

"This is nothing to me, but I'm worried about the other people who think they know what they're doing," said Letson, filling up his car with gas south of Birmingham.

The Rev. Shane Lambert, pastor of Eulaton First Baptist near Anniston, said his congregation held a missions conference Sunday, but canceled the main service because of the snow. He said falling snow made visibility poor for travelers in that area, which reported up to 5 inches.

"It was very slushy," he said. "March came in like a lion."

The weather service said winter storm warnings are in effect from northern Georgia and the Carolinas through the Mid-Atlantic states into New England. Forecasters warn that eight to 14 inches of snow are possible in the Philadelphia area.

At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Delta Air Lines and AirTran Airways canceled some Sunday flights and a Federal Aviation Administration Web site said flights to Atlanta were experiencing average delays of nearly two hours.

AirTran spokesman Tad Hutcheson said flights out of Atlanta into the Northeast may also be canceled Sunday night as the messy, developing storm took aim at walloping at wide swath of the East Coast up through Maine.

"I expect the Northeast will be hit pretty hard tonight so our expectations is that people flying into Washington, D.C., and Boston will need to call or check our Web site for possible cancellations," Hutcheson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Delta spokesman Brian Kruse said the airline is monitoring the weather and asking customers flying to, from or through Atlanta to call Delta or check its Web site for updates.

Despite above-freezing temperatures, a heavy flurry of snow fell on downtown Atlanta, blanketing cars and creating slushy streets and sidewalks. It hadn't snowed in Atlanta for more than a year - the area received 1.4 inches of snow in January 2008, said Laura Griffith of the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, Ga.

The late Southern snowfall brought back memories of a large storm in 1993 that forecasters nicknamed the "Snowfall of the Century," affecting the region from Alabama to north of Washington, D.C. on March 13, 1993, Griffith said. In that storm, Atlanta received 4.2 inches of snow and 13 inches of snow fell on Birmingham, Ala.

Georgia transportation officials warned of potential icy conditions on roadways in middle and northern counties through Monday morning. No icing on roadways, bridges or other overpasses had been reported through midday Sunday, but as temperatures drop Sunday night, officials warn motorists that ice could be a threat.

Outside the CNN Center in downtown Atlanta, Flori Kwon of Claremont, Calif. took pictures of her son Jake, 5, playing in the snow.

"He wants to make a snowman but I don't think there's enough snow," Kwon said while large snowflakes landed in her hair. "We're kind of surprised it's snowing."

Meanwhile, tornado watches were in effect from northern Florida into coastal Georgia and southern South Carolina.

In Pennsylvania, the National Weather Service warned that Philadelphia and its suburban counties could expect as much as 8 to 14 inches of snow starting sometime Sunday evening. The snow in that region may mix with a little sleet at the onset as forecasters issued a winter storm warning for much of eastern Pennsylvania starting at 6 p.m. Sunday and lasting through 4 p.m. Monday.