Southeastern US gets ready for icy, snowy weekend

Weather Art
Weather Art

Purcell firefighter Jason Benefie, center, l cuts limbs obstructing traffic on Friday, Jan. 29, 2010, in Purcell, Okla. after a winter storm. Heavy ice brought down electrical lines and trees limbs, leaving more than 179,000 homes and businesses in Oklahoma without power Friday, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Steve Sisney
Published: Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 1:38 a.m.

NASHVILLE, Tenn — The Southeastern U.S. was next in line for icy roads and snowy landscapes as a storm pushed eastward Friday after knocking out power to tens of thousands and closing major highways in the Midwest and Southern Plains.

The heaviest snow, possibly up to a foot, was predicted in Arkansas near the Missouri state line, northern Tennessee near the Kentucky and Virginia borders and western North Carolina, according to the National Weather Service.

Mark Rose, a forecaster with the weather service's Nashville office, called it "a major winter storm for this part of the country — heck, for any part of it."

The Weather Service warned that icy roads and downed power lines were likely after snow changed to freezing rain Friday night over western Tennessee and northeastern Arkansas.

With temperatures expected to remain below freezing through the weekend, a fresh coating of ice was possible over the area, the Weather Service reported, with a concentration of ice likely along the Interstate 40 corridor.

In mountainous western North Carolina, I-26 near Asheville and I-40 near Black Mountain were shut down Friday night after snow and icy roads caused multiple wrecks. Troopers said they expected the highways to remain closed until early Saturday.

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen declared a state of emergency and state workers were sent home around lunch ahead of the worsening weather. Many businesses followed suit.

States of emergency were also declared in Arkansas and parts of Virginia and schools closed early in northern Alabama.

In Western Kentucky, shoppers at Murray Home & Auto store snatched up every available sled in anticipation of a heavy snow, said store manager Chris Burgess. Others grabbed shovels, kerosene heaters and chain saws, mindful of another winter storm a year ago that caused widespread power outages in the region.

"They're trying to be prepared this time," Burgess said.

The Nashville area saw up to 3 inches of snow by late afternoon, and I-40 traffic crawled toward Nashville International Airport for miles because of an accident.

Snowfall was subsiding late Friday afternoon in Memphis after an estimated 3 inches had fallen. Most flights at Memphis International Airport were canceled, and Graceland stopped giving tours of the Elvis Presley home at midmorning.

Memphis officials worried because temperatures were forecast to remain below freezing overnight, posing a threat of icy highways and falling tree limbs.

General contractor Tom Baldwin, 59, said he cut loose his crew at a downtown Nashville building at noon to give them time to get home safely.

"I want to tell people to have some common sense out there," he said. "Only because you have big four-wheel-drive doesn't make you stop any quicker."

The steady snowfall didn't keep Jason Martin from delivering beer to Lonnie's Western Room in Nashville's Printer's Alley.

"When it snows, everyone goes out and buys milk and eggs — and beer," joked Martin, 37. "We're like the Pony Express."

Meanwhile, states in the storm's wake were uncovering from inches of snow and caked ice that fouled electricity to hundreds of thousands of customers. Thirteen inches of snow in the northern Texas Panhandle, where nearly all of I-40 from the Texas-Oklahoma line to New Mexico was closed for part of the day.

More than 164,000 homes and businesses in Oklahoma were without power Friday evening, officials said. The outages were caused by a massive storm that left up to a half-inch of ice on trees and power lines.

Gov. Brad Henry requested a federal disaster declaration for all 77 Oklahoma counties.

"In some places, as far as you can see there are hundreds of utility poles on the ground," said Andrea Chancellor, spokeswoman for Public Service Co. of Oklahoma. She said it could be five days before electricity is restored to all customers.

The storm has been blamed for the death of a 70-year-old Oklahoma woman in a propane explosion. The woman and her husband had apparently been using propane heaters to warm their house in Ada after the storm disrupted their electric service, Assistant Fire Chief Robby Johnson said. The woman, who was not identified, died and her husband was injured when a propane tank exploded Friday morning.

Downed power lines and icy, dangerous road conditions also temporarily closed a 50-mile stretch of I-44 southwest of Oklahoma City and parts of I-40 in far western Oklahoma and eastern New Mexico on Thursday.

Heide Brandes, spokeswoman for the Salvation Army in Oklahoma City, said the organization's men's shelter has been full since the slow-moving storm moved into the area Thursday. She said some of the 90 men in the shelter are homeless and sought relief when temperatures dropped to the mid-20s.

Arkansas State Police warned people who were driving to work on Friday to be prepared to be stranded. Spokesman Bill Sadler encouraged motorists to bring blankets, water and snacks and to make plans for an overnight stay.

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