The Heat Is Online

Snow, Bitter Cold Swamp Southeastern U.S.

Fatal cold, ice grip South

The Boston Globe, Jan. 4, 2001

RALEIGH, N.C. - A deep freeze and a second dose of snow turned the South into a deadly, slippery nightmare yesterday, paralyzing a region unaccustomed to icy winter weather.

Hundreds of flights were canceled in Atlanta, and more than 4,000 stranded travelers spent the night at the nation's busiest airport. South Carolina's governor declared a state of emergency, called out the National Guard to help stranded motorists, and told tens of thousands of state workers to take the rest of the week off. Cold weather that settled in behind the storm front sent people crowding into Florida shelters.

At least nine deaths were attributed to the storm, which began Wednesday with sleet and snow stretching from southern Louisiana to Virginia.

An overnight freeze coated roads with ice and more snow fell yesterday. Nearly a foot was expected in parts of Georgia by today, and more than a foot was forecast in North Carolina and Virginia as the storm moved up the East Coast.

''I've never seen it snow for a full day,'' said Luke Jarrett, 25, of Atlanta after building a snowman for the first time yesterday. ''It's so pretty. It covers up all the dirt. I'd like it to stay as long as possible.''

The storm came as a shock to Southerners who were basking in 70-degree temperatures just a couple of weeks ago. Daffodils, crocuses, and cherry blossoms were tricked into believing spring had arrived.

''What a change,'' said Susan Yeaman of the National Weather Service in Raleigh. ''The weather pattern changed about a week ago, and it doesn't show any signs of changing back.''

Governor Jim Hodges of South Carolina, who called out 100 National Guardsmen on Wednesday, declared a state of emergency yesterday, and most of the 64,000 state employees were told to stay home until Monday. More than 2,400 accidents were reported in the Carolinas.

Thousands of passengers were stuck at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport after the snow forced Delta and other airlines to cancel more than 500 flights. Some arriving planes waited two hours to unload their passengers, and departing aircraft lined up to be de-iced.

Only 20 flights were arriving and leaving yesterday morning instead of the normal 180.

''We would not have the same amount of equipment as you would find at O'Hare or LaGuardia where they can count every winter on getting hit with a large amount of snow,'' airport spokeswoman Lanii Thomas said.

After waiting eight hours on the runway to take off for Florida, John Pickitt got off a Delta airliner yesterday with his children, deciding to drive the 12 hours to Fort Lauderdale.

''The Gameboy ran out of batteries, so that was a real emergency,'' he said.

Outside Atlanta, traffic into the city was backed up for more than 20 miles on Interstate 20 after two tractor-trailers spun out of control yesterday morning. The city's commuter rail system was slowed by ice on the tracks.

In South Carolina, two women died when their cars skidded on ice and were struck by oncoming vehicles. Three deaths in Mississippi, two in Georgia, and two more in North Carolina also were attributed to slick roads.

In a rare sight, light snow fell in the Florida Panhandle cities of Pensacola and Marianna. Wind chills in the teens caused a run on firewood, forced farmers to cover their crops, and sent crowds into shelters in Jacksonville and Tallahassee. Freeze warnings were posted for northern Florida and the Alabama coast, and record cold was predicted in southern Florida.

Schools and businesses across the region were closed, extending the holiday break. There was no rest for utility workers contending with power outages, including 48,000 in South Carolina and 19,000 in North Carolina.

Royce Fuoco was using a plastic rake to shovel his driveway in Wake Forest, N.C., wishing he had listened to his mother-in-law in New York over the holidays when she offered him a shovel.

''It's been two years since we've gotten snow,'' he said.

This story ran on page A2 of the Boston Globe on 1/4/2002.
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Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.