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Snow gives way to hard freeze

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By Johnny Jackson and Valerie Baldowski

jjackson@henryherald.com

On a typical morning, Thomas Bagwell walks two miles through his east McDonough neighborhood for exercise. On Friday, however, the frosty walker shortened his workout in favor of getting warm.

"I think it's cold enough," Bagwell said. "I'm going in to sit by the heater."

Residents throughout North Georgia braved freezing temperatures Friday as traces of snow and ice left behind by Thursday night's snowfall made roadways difficult to navigate. Icy conditions led to school closings, flight delays and one accident involving nearly 30 cars near the airport.

Friday's average high temperature struggled to break the 29-degree mark in metro Atlanta, according to Laura Griffith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Griffith said the deep freeze will continue through the remainder of the weekend, with high temperatures reaching only 32 degrees on Saturday, and 33 degrees on Sunday. She said morning lows will remain in the teens through Monday, before temperatures begin to warm.

"The good thing is that we're looking at sunny conditions this weekend," Griffith said. "The widespread ice seen earlier Friday is not expected to continue through the weekend."

She said Monday's average high is expected to be 43 degrees across metro Atlanta, but there will be a 20-percent chance of snow flurries Monday evening. High temperatures will be warming into the low 50s later in week, she continued.

Icy road conditions Friday morning led to a 27-car pile-up on the interstate in College Park, authorities said. The crash occurred around 4:45 a.m., on the ramp to Interstate 85 northbound at the intersection with I-285 westbound, according to Tami Fowler, a spokesperson for the College Park Fire Department.

"We transported three people to area hospitals. We didn't have anyone with life-threatening injuries," Fowler said.

Fowler said the ramp was blocked for two and a half to three hours, and that the incident also created a backup on I-285.

"One gentlemen said that he came around the corner, and he was going around 30 to 40 mph," she said. "He saw around 10 cars piled up. He was able to come to a complete stop, and pulled over to the side as much as he could, and that's when the other cars started piling into him. It was dark, and that, of course, didn't help.

"We're actually fortunate that we didn't have any greater injuries, or any fatalities out of this," she added.

In Jonesboro Friday afternoon, an SUV flipped on its side on Smith Street after hitting a patch of ice between Fayetteville Road and Tara Boulevard.

Jonesboro Police Lt. Victoria Wright said the two people in the vehicle were treated for injuries at the scene. Police blocked that part of Smith Street, but Wright said authorities hoped to re-open it sometime today.

Lillian Jackson, a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Transportation, said Friday that road crews focused on making sure that entrance and exit ramps of major interstates, and busy state routes and secondary roads, were safe for travel. Crews used a de-icing mixture consisting of salt and gravel for roads across metro Atlanta.

On Friday, 15 flights departing Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and 24 arriving flights had been delayed by mid afternoon, according to Kathleen Bergen, Southeast region communications manager for the Federal Aviation Administration.

The icy conditions caused by Friday's hard freeze prompted school officials to cancel classes in Henry, Clayton and a number of other metro counties.

Students in the Henry County school system are scheduled to return to classes on Monday, and will not have to make up classes they missed Friday, according to Ethan Hildreth, the assistant superintendent of administrative services for Henry County Schools.

"Locally, we were concerned with icy patches being on the road, and we wanted to err on the side of the students' safety," Hildreth said. "We plan to have classes as usual on Monday, barring something unexpected."

Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley decided Thursday night to close schools and offices Friday after local authorities determined that roads in the county were not safe to drive on, school system Spokesman Charles White said.

White said Heatley and his leadership team will likely make a decision about when students will make up the missed day of school. "If it requires a change in the approved calendar, it has to go to the school board for approval," White said.

Clayton State University was also closed on Friday, but university Spokesman John Shiffert said in a written statement that students were not affected because the spring semester is not scheduled to begin until Monday.

Though weather conditions appeared to be improving, officials were urging residents to be cautious on the roadways and at home.

Pet owners should keep their pets hydrated and in warm, dry facilities at all times during cold weather, "especially when it is [as] cold as it is now," said Vince Farah, coordinator of the Henry County Animal Care and Control Department.

"It is also imperative that these pet owners keep a check on their pets' water," Farah said. "We recommend that during these frigid nights, bring the pets in. If they are outdoor animals, make sure they have proper bedding, and make sure that your animal has these accommodations provided 24-7."

Public safety officials in Henry County reported few weather-related incidents, though there were several minor traffic accidents.

"People are actually heeding the warnings and staying off the road as much as possible," Henry County Emergency Management Agency Director Don Ash said Friday. "It's been a typical day, for the most part."

Ash said Henry County's Emergency 911 Call Center received reports of three weather-related accidents early Friday, along Ga. Highway 20/81 in McDonough, Stagecoach Road in Stockbridge, and Woolsey Road in Hampton.

The vehicles slid on the ice, but there were no injuries, he said.

The usual Meals On Wheels deliveries to homebound elderly residents were suspended for the day because of icy road conditions, said Henry County Senior Services Director Susan Craig.

"Our policy is, we don't deliver meals on the days the school system is closed," she said.

Craig said the service's clients were delivered long-lasting emergency meals last month in anticipation of such weather. "We provide them with at least a two-day supply," she said.

The shuttle service that Henry County Transit provides to the Heritage Senior Center in McDonough was also suspended due to the weather.

Georgia Power officials reported a few scattered outages due to ice-coated power lines, but they were quickly cleared up.

Fewer than 200 customers statewide were affected, said Georgia Power Spokeswoman Carol Boatright. "We're in good shape right now," she said Friday.

Activities at Clayton County Parks and Recreation facilities were canceled Friday but all scheduled events were expected to resume today, according to department Spokesperson Lindsey DeLong.

-- Staff writers Curt Yeomans, Linda Looney-Bond and Maria Jose Subiria contributed to this article.