The Heat Is Online

Worst Ice Storm in Memory Disables North Georgia

Deep South in a deep freeze

Donna Pistilli Sauer and Kevin O'Shea, The Weather Channel, Jan. 23, 2000

The houses were dark and the city streets littered with tree limbs and branches. This, the scene in metro Atlanta Sunday after a powerful winter storm left the city under a thick coating of ice.

Hundreds of thousands of customers lost power as the weight of the ice snapped tree limbs and power lines. So families spent the afternoon bundled up around fireplaces wondering when the power – and heat – would come back on.

The storm moved into the Southeast on Saturday afternoon. In north Georgia, Alabama and the Border States, heavy wet snow fell. Meanwhile metro Atlanta, as usual, sat nervously on the edge of the storm.

Overnight temperatures hovered at the freezing point. Freezing rain and sleet fell steadily, adhering to the colder surfaces of trees, cars, and roadways.

So by daybreak Sunday, the city was glistening with ice. Though for the most part the roads near the city were just wet – not frozen, travel was quite treacherous. Downed trees blocked dozens of streets while hundreds of traffic lights went black.

"This is the worst ice storm I have seen hit the Atlanta area ever," said The Weather Channel Senior Meteorologist Tom Moore. "The damage is much worse even than we saw when Hurricane Opal hit Georgia," he added.

"It broke all my trees in half," said Susan Foster of Murrayville, a small town in northeast Georgia.

"Starting around midnight we kept hearing trees crashing in our yard. It was really frightening for my husband and me - my kids thought it was really cool! "It was beautiful. But it was terrible," she said.

She added that due to the power outage the temperature in her home fell to 55 degrees by midday, when she and her family decided to brave the roads on the hour-long trip to her mother's house for shelter.

In Charlotte, N.C., similar conditions prevailed. Thousands lost power and tree limbs blocked roads when the ice storm moved in. On Saturday afternoon a U.S. Airways flight from Orlando slid off the runway and into the snow-covered grass. None of the 152 passengers was injured but the runway was blocked for a time.

The freezing rain let up as temperatures across metro Atlanta rebounded to above freezing Sunday afternoon, so the ice began a slow melt. But that in itself proved frightening for area drivers, as sheets of ice fell from trees and power lines overhead like missiles.

Forecasters did not expect the temperature to fall below freezing in Atlanta through Monday, spelling good news for area homeowners and power company repair crews.

Those in extreme northeast Georgia and into the Carolinas may not be as fortunate, however. Forecasters said that those areas might stay below freezing into Monday, particularly in the low valleys.

So even though the precipitation is over, it's effects will linger for at least another day.
Reuters Limited contributed to this report