Snowstruck Southerners tossed snowballs not far from the Gulf of Mexico as winter took its biggest whack at the region in decades Friday, coating areas from Texas to the Carolinas and grounding many flights at the world's busiest airport.
The storm also put a treacherous glaze on highways ahead of the holiday weekend. A car plunged off an icy road into a pond outside Montgomery, Ala., killing two brothers ages 4 and 2, State Trooper Kevin Cook said. The boys' mother, who was driving, survived.
It was the South's turn to cope with winter after back-to-back blizzards in the past week dumped 3 feet of snow on the Mid-Atlantic and parts of the Northeast, where pockets of residents remained without power. Federal forecasters said every state but Hawaii had snow on the ground somewhere Friday, a freakishly rare occurrence.
Airlines scrapped nearly 1,900 flights, many of them at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which sees 2,700 arrivals and departures on an average day. Of that total, hundreds were halted at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, which got more than a foot of snow from Thursday into Friday.
The cancellations quickly jammed up air traffic around the country.
"It's frustrating," said Russ Cereola, a New York salesman trying to fly home from Atlanta. "There's no snow on the ground yet, and they're canceling flights. Now I understand inbound stuff is probably canceled, but this is a little nuts."
Many places were seeing snow for the first time in a generation or longer, and some people weren't quite sure what to do.
"We don't even sell snow shovels. They'd have to go to the old-time coal shovels, which is the closest thing I have," said Todd Friddle, the manager at a Lowe's in the Charleston, S.C., suburb of Mount Pleasant.
Snow for first time
Children in cities better known for stifling humidity took to throwing snowballs and building snowmen, while snow dusted the kudzu vines so prevalent in warm Southern climates.
In the Florida Panhandle town of Century, 44-year-old Steve Pace scraped some snow from the hood of his truck and formed a snowball to throw at his 6-year-old grandson, Kaleb. It only snowed for about 10 minutes before giving way to rain again, but it was enough.
"I've only ever seen snow on TV till now," Kaleb said, smiling.
For the first time in its 88-year history, Grandview Florist in the Panhandle community of Gonzalez had to reschedule Valentine's Day deliveries for winter weather. Owner Marie Pierce, 77, managed the chaos while creating arrangements from lilies and roses in the back of the rural shop.
"The schools and some businesses are closed, so we are sending our drivers to customers' homes instead," said Pierce, whose grandmother started the shop in 1923.
Rafael Williams, 8, was walking in the snow through a Jackson, Miss., neighborhood and posing for pictures.
"I love it. It's never been this way before since I've been alive," the 8-year-old said.
'We act like it's Armageddon'
In northern Mobile County, Ala., a few miles from Mobile Bay, the storm dumped as much as 6 inches of snow in two hours, said Jeffrey Medlin, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Mobile.
"There was a band that got focused on that area, and it just pummeled it," said Medlin. "If you get 6 inches plus, that's certainly record territory."
Flurries settled on downtown Atlanta by midafternoon, almost immediately snarling the streets, and snow kept falling as dusk came.
The southern Alabama city of Andalusia had recorded its largest snowfall since 1973 — 2 inches as of Friday morning. The city of 8,800 near the Florida line was getting ready to close its streets because of snow, which no one could remember happening before, said city building inspector Micah Blair.
Lawyer Clay Benson, on his daily Starbucks run, said a lot of clients had understandably canceled appointments at his office in downtown Montgomery, Ala., though he thought the closing of state offices was overkill.
"People from up North laugh at us," he said. "We act like it's Armageddon coming down here when it snows."