By Christina A. Cassidy
ATLANTA: The city dodged the first punch of a dangerous winter storm Tuesday, but forecasters warned of a potentially “catastrophic” second blow in a thick layer of ice that threatened to bring hundreds of thousands of power outages and leave people in their cold, dark homes for days.
The streets and highways in metro Atlanta were largely deserted as people in the South’s business hub heeded advice from officials to hunker down at home, especially after the snow jam two weeks ago saw thousands of people stranded on icy, gridlocked roads for hours when 2 inches of snow fell.
“Last time I was totally unprepared, I was completely blindsided,” said Lisa Nadir, of Acworth, who sat in traffic for 13 hours and then spent the night in her car when the storm hit Jan. 28. “I’m going to be prepared from now on for the rest of my life.”
Nadir was telecommuting from home Tuesday and she had cat litter in her trunk in case she needed to put it down on icy roads for extra traction.
Eli Jacks, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said forecasters use words like “catastrophic” sparingly.
“Sometimes we want to tell them, ‘Hey, listen, this warning is different. This is really extremely dangerous and it doesn’t happen very often,”’ Jacks said.
“I think three-quarters of an inch of ice anywhere would be catastrophic,” Jacks said.
But the Atlanta area and other parts of the South are particularly vulnerable because there are so many trees and limbs hanging over power lines. When the ice builds up on them, limbs snap and fall, knocking out power.
Hundreds of Georgia National Guard troops were on standby in case evacuations were needed at hospitals or nursing homes, and more than 70 shelters were set to open. President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Georgia, ordering federal agencies to help the state and local response during the storm.
Around the South, slick roads were causing problems. In North Texas, at least four people died on icy roads, including a Dallas firefighter who was knocked from an interstate ramp and fell 50 feet, according to a police report.