ATLANTA (AP) – Snowfall blanketed parts of the Deep South on Friday, delighting schoolchildren with an unexpected holiday but also reviving panicky memories for many adults of past storms that trapped commuters on interstates for hours.
Businesses closed and commuters left work early as snow mixed with rain fell in downtown Atlanta, jamming traffic on slushy roads far ahead of the usual rush hour.
“We’re surprised that this little snowfall would cause this much disruption to the entire city,” said Lucas Rachow, who stood outside with several colleagues as they waited for a ride to the airport.
Rachow was heading home to Switzerland after a business meeting and said he didn’t know if his flight had been canceled.
The National Weather Service said just 1 to 2 inches (3-5 centimeters) of snow accumulation was expected in Atlanta, with higher amounts possible in the city’s northern suburbs. It was enough to remind some residents of the 2014 storm that brought the city to a standstill and stranded motorists on roads overnight with just 2 inches of precipitation.
The National Weather Service says the snow is expected to move into the Mid-Atlantic, parts of the Northeast and New England this weekend.
At a Jersey Mike’s sandwich shop in downtown Atlanta, manager Mike Thomas said the snow had driven away his clientele. He was calling his boss to see if they should close up early, just as the barbecue restaurant next door had done.
“I’m terribly slow,” Thomas said, just after what should have been the lunch rush.
Accumulations of 6 inches (15 centimeters) were reported in Mississippi and northern Georgia, while at least 5 inches (13 centimeters) fell in Alabama. Rare snow flurries were spotted in New Orleans. Motorists were urged to stay off the road in Louisiana for fear of ice.
The weather band also brought a rare snowfall to parts of South Texas.
“It’s the first snow of the season and any time you even mention snow in the South, you’re going to get people a little panicky,” said David Nadler, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s office south of Atlanta.
Temperatures were expected to sink below freezing across much of the region overnight, and forecasters warned that black ice could make roads treacherous. Things were expected to thaw by Saturday afternoon, with sunnier weather and highs reaching into the 40s and 50s.
By late afternoon Friday, a total of 688 flights had been cancelled at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, said airport spokesman Reese McCranie.
Later that evening, Delta Airlines said on Twitter that it had canceled 625 flights because of snow in Atlanta. Delta had prepared for the storm by having crews de-ice planes and waived fees for some passengers scheduled to fly Friday.
Highway department officials were monitoring the elevated roadways and bridges that stretch across much of south Louisiana, warning that motorists to stay home if possible. Some highways were shut down Friday, as snow fell in cities and towns that have little experience with it. Truckers were urged to stay off of Interstate 10 in Mississippi.
Short, squat snowmen – some already melting by Friday afternoon – dotted yards and parks around Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Josh Black, a 30-year-old LSU graduate student, took photos of one tiny snowman outside the State Capitol building near the gravesite of former Louisiana Gov. Huey Long.
Black, who hails from the Toronto, Canada, area, chuckled about southern Louisiana’s reaction to the snow.
“They canceled school this morning, which is funny to me, for an inch of snow that is going to melt in an hour,” he said, smiling. “This is like May or October where I’m from.”
Snowfall and icy roads in North Carolina closed government offices and schools, sent cars sliding off the road and altered the governor’s travel plans.
Forecasters said heavy snow was falling in the mountainous western part of the state with up to 6 inches likely in areas including Asheville. A winter storm warning was in effect through Saturday morning for western counties.
In Alabama, Glenn Thompson said he had no trouble getting to work at a Texaco station in the northeastern town of Heflin despite snow that was still falling.
“We probably got about an inch. As long as the temperature doesn’t drop we’ll be fine,” said Thompson.
The frigid temperatures behind a cold front combined with moisture off the Gulf of Mexico to bring the weather to parts of the South. It knocked out power to thousands and caused numerous accidents along slick roadways.
Snow and sleet fell Thursday in Laredo and other communities on the Mexican border. The weather band also brought snow to San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Houston and elsewhere.
Georgia road crews took no chances ahead of Friday’s morning rush hour and pre-treated bridges and overpasses late Thursday with a briny water-and-salt mix against any snow or ice.
In downtown Atlanta, 42-year-old Jesse Few stood outdoors Friday afternoon, bundled in a hoodie and scarf, feeding crumbs to the pigeons. He said he had nowhere to go to escape the frigid weather and no idea where he would stay Friday night.
“I’m homeless,” he said, adding that he trusts in God.
“I can’t worry,” he said. “I won’t worry.”
Associated Press writers Jeff Martin and Don Schanche in Atlanta and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, contributed to this report.