Southern Crescent 'dodged the bullet' with ice

By Johnny Jackson and Curt Yeomans


Wednesday's wintry mix had its greatest impact on Atlanta's northern suburbs, leaving motorists to navigate afternoon rush-hour traffic on iced-over roadways, according to Robert Garcia, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The ice continued to wreak havoc on metro Atlanta during the early morning hours on Thursday, although northern suburbs continued to feel the greatest impact of the weather. "It really kind of came together and made it kind of a nightmare for people," said Garcia.

The cause of the ice, Garcia explained, was a weak weather system moving over a residual arctic air mass in north Georgia late Wednesday afternoon, into the evening.

"We had had several days of really cool temperatures, and a layer of warm air above colder air that produced precipitation that hit the ground, cooled, and froze," he said.

Garcia noted several reports of icing were logged from Cherokee and Floyd counties on Wednesday, heading into Thursday. "The farthest south was in North DeKalb," he said. "We haven't heard anything from South Metro; we haven't heard any reports of black ice, so far."

Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) Spokesman Mark McKinnon, said the Atlanta area can expect to have some relief, though, from ice this weekend. "We should be clear ... for a couple of days," he said.

The weather ended up playing havoc with Atlanta-area school systems, with several districts having to delay the start of the school day, or completely close down for day.

McKinnon said the DOT had crews out as early as 9 p.m., on Wednesday, pouring salt and gravel on area roads to keep ice from forming, but it ended up not being enough, and there were numerous icy spots by the time children were getting ready for school. "Everything started to freeze early, around rush-hour traffic," he said. "We couldn't catch up."

Locally, the Henry County School System was one of the few districts spared any problems. Officials with the school system reported no scheduling changes resulting from the cold, wet weather.

But, Clayton County Public Schools was one of those districts that had to push back the start time for schools. The district delayed opening schools and administrative offices by two hours because of the ice, said spokesman, Charles White. Local television stations began reporting the school system's delayed start just after 5:30 a.m.

"The problem is the northern part of the county has a lot of ice on the roads," said White, at 6 a.m., on Thursday. "The southern part of county is not that bad, but there are hazardous road conditions in the northern part of the county right now."

Other than the delayed start for Clayton County schools, however, the ice had no major impact, Thursday, on Clayton and Henry Counties, according to local police. "We were one of the few counties that did not have a lot of [traffic] incidents," said Capt. Tina Daniel, spokesperson for the Clayton County Police Department.

Henry County Police spokesman, Maj. Jason Bolton, added: "It appears that we escaped the harsher weather that some of the north-end counties experienced."

Air traffic, flying in and out of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport this week, has not been so lucky, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson, Kathleen Bergen. Bergen said the weather has been causing flight delays "off and on, throughout several days" because of ice forming on the wings of planes.

At Hartsfield-Jackson, on Wednesday, there were 127 flight delays averaging 61 minutes, to a maximum of 134 minutes, said Bergen. This past Sunday, she said, the airport had 341 delays, which averaged up to 244 minutes. The flights were delayed because ground crews had to de-ice the planes, she added. "Aircraft cannot take off, if there's ice on wings," Bergen. "It affects how aircraft can fly."

Delta Air Lines Spokesman Anthony Black said the airline saw the largest impact from the storm on Wednesday, when more than 300 flights had to be canceled, and delays exceed two-and-a-half hours. Things settled down considerably on Thursday, he added, when there were only 40 cancellations, and delays averaged 30 minutes.

"The No. 1 thing taken into consideration is safety of operations and getting customers to their destinations as quickly as possible," Black said.

Katena Carvajales, a spokesperson for Hartsfield-Jackson, said the airport has been taking steps to make sure roadways and walkways on the airport property are safe for passengers as well. "We use a spreader to distribute a substance called sodium acetate on the roadways and walkways" to melt the ice, said Carvajales.

Georgia Power Spokeswoman Carol Boatright reported no weather-related power outages within the utility company's 247,000-customer Metro South Region, which includes Henry, Clayton, and Fayette counties, as well as parts of South Fulton County.

Clayton County and Henry County government officials said neither county really suffered any problems operating on Thursday because of the weather. Clayton County Spokesperson Jamie Carlington said the only issue was that government employees, who have children in the county's school system, could not come to work on time.

"Of course, it was flexible for parents whose children had to go to school two hours later than normal, but other than that, there were no problems," Carlington said.

Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services Assistant Fire Chief Landry Merkison, and Henry County Fire Department spokesperson, Capt. Sabrina Puckett, added that weather problems did not lead to fires in either county.

"We dodged the bullet," Merkison said.

But, the Atlanta area is not yet totally in the clear, according to meteorologist Garcia. He said this weekend's weather forecast anticipates another cold front, arriving today, and pushing high temperatures near 50 degrees, down to the lower 30s tonight.

Garcia said there will be a 20 percent chance of showers and light, freezing rain after midnight, with winds upwards to 10 mph. The wintery precipitation, he said, is not expected to accumulate heading into Saturday, when highs are projected to reach the mid-40s.

"We may not get cold enough to have things freeze and stick on contact," added Garcia. "We still have to watch out for it, though."

-- Staff writers Mehgaan Jones, Jason Smith, Valerie Baldowski, and Maria Jose Subiria contributed to this report.