By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Press
JACKSON – A blast of winter weather pushed across the South on Sunday, coating bridges and roads with snow, sleet and freezing rain and causing hundreds of flight cancelations.
The governors of Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia issued emergency declarations. Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said workers had readied snow and salt trucks to help clear icy roads, and he asked all residents to stay home Sunday night and today unless necessary.
Mississippi officials warned motorists early Sunday that ice was already accumulating on roads and bridges in many counties, creating hazardous driving conditions.
The National Weather Service posted winter storm warnings from east Texas to the Carolinas.
Daniel Lamb, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson, Miss., said heavy snow had fallen Sunday afternoon from Arkansas to north Mississippi. Other areas of the South saw freezing rain and sleet.
Forecasters expected the most extreme conditions in Mississippi and northern Louisiana over night with the possibility of heavy ice accumulation in places.
“And since it’s going to be pretty cold over the next few days, we could see whatever accumulates sticking around for a few days,” Lamb said.
Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas were expecting icy weather overnight.
The anticipated storm forced Georgia officials to move today’s inauguration of newly elected Gov. Nathan Deal from the state Capitol steps inside to the shelter of the House chamber. The inaugural gala was scrapped to keep supporters off treacherous roads.
Hundreds of flights were canceled at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Delta Air Lines canceled 330 flights starting about 8 p.m. Sunday and another 1,400 flights today. AirTran Airways canceled 14 flights for Sunday and another 270 for today, spokesman Christopher White said.
Both airlines are allowing passengers whose flights are canceled to change them without fees.
Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport spokesman David Magana said 200 flights, or about a quarter of the schedule, were canceled in anticipation of the weather.
In eastern Tennessee, the Weather Service said 4 to 6 inches of snow could fall by Sunday evening, with the heaviest snow falling early today.
In Alabama, some churches canceled Sunday night services as the wintry system moved into the state from Mississippi.
Officials closed a bridge over the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa until workers could spread sand across a sheet of ice that formed quickly on the roadway. Numerous schools called off classes for today in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.
Auburn University students must go somewhere other than campus to watch the Tigers play in the championship bowl game today. The university has canceled all viewing parties and other events planned as the state prepares for severe winter weather.