Atlanta won't get fooled again.
The South is bracing for another blast of winter weather with freezing rain and sleet expected to begin walloping the area on Tuesday, and Georgia and its biggest city are determined to avoid a repeat of last month's disaster.
On Monday afternoon, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 45 counties.
“We are exercising extreme caution,” Deal said at a press conference attended by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. Both were roundly criticized over preparations for January’s storm. "We are certainly ahead of the game this time, and that's important," Deal added.
This time, cold will meet precipitation, creating an icy mess from northeast Texas to the Carolinas through Wednesday, according to Weather.com.
After 2 inches of snow in late January debilitated parts of Georgia — particularly Atlanta — leaving kids stranded in schools and cars stuck on highways overnight, the state’s transportation department cried wolf last Thursday when declaring a winter weather storm watch for Atlanta that wasn’t.
The worst of the wintry weather was due to hit later Tuesday and into Wednesday, Deal said when releasing a thorough plan to mobilize emergency services.
“Please stay off the roads if at all possible so that we limit traffic and make way for workers to treat the highways,” Deal said.
Reed, who had famously declared Atlanta ready just as the January storm hit, said the city had 120 plows and salt spreaders ready to deploy, and he planned to check the functionality of the equipment personally.
“I’ll let the results speak for themselves,” Reed added.
Some in Georgia weren’t confident.
Jay Ali, a college student in Atlanta, said the state’s response to the last storm demonstrated “unforeseen levels of incompetence,” and he didn’t think the government would handle this storm any better that last time.
"I can only think it will be better because there was a brouhaha."
Gary Flack, 67, of Atlanta is worried officials will over-prepare for the oncoming weather. "I can only think it will be better because there was a brouhaha," Flack said, but he added that he hoped the state wouldn’t shut down completely, unless warranted.
Deal addressed such concerns at the news conference. “Overreaction has an economic impact, underreaction has an economic impact,” he said. “That’s why we’re going to try our best to get it absolutely correct every time.”
Along with deploying state police, Department of Transportation and the Department of Natural Resources to areas in Georgia where the storm is expected, Deal said he is also working with health officials and power companies to prepare for the possibility of wide power outages.
"When you talk about the amount of ice we are looking at, it's catastrophic," said Aaron Strickland, emergency operations director for Georgia Power.
While the state hopes to get to the roads early in order to prep for slick conditions, Georgia residents are having trouble finding salt in the stores, a problem that plagues a good deal of the country after a treacherous winter.
Bates Ace Hardware in Atlanta was not only out of salt but had already presold 150 bags that were coming in from a warehouse, said manager Rod Brim. He said the store is out of shovels too, and he’s not the only one scrounging for winter-weather supplies. “Everybody’s out,” he said.
Snow days are yet another shortage in the state. Cattoosa, Ga., public schools have already used five weather days this year and have to hold classes on President's Day. And the district isn't used to maxing out on cancellation days. Before this year, "We haven’t had snow days since January 2011," said Cattoosa spokeswoman Marissa Brower.
Atlanta Public Schools announced on Monday afternoon that they would be closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Deal said it was “almost a certainty” that schools spanning the state would be closed Wednesday.
In Lawrenceville, Ga., outside of Atlanta, shoppers prepping for the storm at midday in a Kroger’s grocery store fled in panic as gunfire broke, wounding two people, police told NBC News. Their injuries appeared not to be life-threatening. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that one person had been arrested but it wasn't clear what sparked the gunfire.
Other southern states could face widespread power outages and tree damage from freezing rain through Wednesday, although exactly how much ice could accumulate was uncertain, according to Weather.com.
The National Weather Service has posted winter storm watches, warnings and advisories for Texas and Oklahoma through most of the Carolinas.
A serious crash in an icy drizzle caused the closing of Interstate 20 in Dallas, and a firefighter fell off a bridge during the response and was taken to a hospital, NBC Dallas-Fort Worth reported.
Schools in Jackson and other parts of Mississippi said they would close Tuesday because of the storms, NBC station WAPT reported.
The storm is expected to progress up the East Coast late Wednesday, Weather.com said. Six to eight inches were expected in the Philadelphia and New York City areas and more could fall farther inland.
The storm would hit Pennsylvania at an inopportune time as nearly 19,000 customers faced their sixth day without power on Monday morning, as a result of the last storm to hit that region, according to NBC Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Oregon and Washington welcomed precipitation in a less frozen state as four days of snow and ice transitioned to rain Monday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
First published February 10 2014, 7:01 AM