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Drivers Stranded, Ditch Cars on Icy Highways in South as Cold Snap Continues

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A cold spell carrying ice, snow and heavy winds that has already claimed more than three dozen lives and snarled traffic across the eastern U.S. was delivered a second blow Saturday — and it likely won't let up until the end of next week, meteorologists warned.

Several states in the South, stretching from Arkansas to Georgia and up to Kentucky, were expected to get pelted with rain Saturday, after ice accumulations took down power lines and halted travel on some highways Friday. Dozens of drivers reported having to sleep in their cars or abandon their vehicles altogether because of ice-related accidents.

The northbound side of Interstate 75 in Catoosa County, Georgia, was completely closed Saturday morning because of multiple accidents stemming from icy conditions. Parts of I-24 in the northern part of the state were also blocked, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation and the National Weather Service.

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In Alabama, vehicles came to a standstill on Interstate 65 in Athens after ice buildup caused an accident involving an 18-wheeler, reported NBC affiliate WAFF.

Amber Howe and her husband stayed on the highway in their car from 9:30 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday. "I felt very vulnerable because it was completely black and you have nowhere to go ... you are just a sitting duck," Howe said.

The couple was on their way from Illinois to vacation in Panama City Beach, Florida, when the "nightmare" ensued, Howe told NBC News. "We are not giving up," Howe said shortly after traffic started moving again. "We are headed to Panama City Beach."

The Howes might have the right idea. Relentless cold air could bring more snow, sleet and freezing rain from the southern Plains to the Southeast in the beginning of the week, and the Northeast could get hit with yet another round of snow toward the middle of the week, according to Weather.com.

Tennessee, which saw 18 of the reported 37 deaths resulting from record-breaking cold and debilitating ice this week, remained under a flood watch Saturday, along with parts of Kentucky, as temperatures crept higher, the National Weather Service said.

The Howes might have the right idea. A swath from southern Missouri to northern Maine — about 100 million people — were under winter weather warnings and advisories on Saturday morning as a band of "heavy precipitation" moved from the Deep South to the Northeast. An onslaught of arctic air is helping to produce snow, sleet and freezing rain from Ohio to New England on Saturday and Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

New York City and Washington, D.C., started to see snow on Saturday afternoon that might not stop falling before 5 inches accumulates, forecasters said. “Motorists should not be out unless it is an absolute emergency,” said Maryland State Highway Administrator Melinda Peters, according to NBC Washington. Areas from eastern Ohio to New England could expect up to 8 inchesof snow, Weather.com reported.

Relentless cold air could bring more snow, sleet and freezing rain from the southern Plains to the Southeast in the beginning of the week, and the Northeast could get hit with yet another round of snow toward the middle of the week, according to Weather.com.

Tennessee, which saw 18 of the reported 37 deaths resulting from record-breaking cold and debilitating ice this week, remained under a flood watch Saturday, along with parts of Kentucky, as temperatures crept higher, the National Weather Service said. Officials believe the winter weather caused a research plant to collapse in Portland, Tennessee, leading to a chemical spill that sparked a fire, according to NBC affiliate WSMV. No one was injured, the station reported. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam declared a state of emergency due to the ice storm and onslaught of rain.

On Saturday night, the Tennessee Metro Public Works division warned that dropping temperatures overnight could cause cleared roads to refreeze, and urged drivers to stay off of them. "Nashvillians may be tired of this drill, but they should again avoid driving overnight and early tomorrow morning unless absolutely necessary," said Nashville Fire Chief Ricky White. "Fortunately, we're almost through this."

NBC News' Emmanuelle Saliba contributed to this report.

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