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Snow falling in Middle Georgia, thousands without power, travel discouraged

After 7:30 a.m., radar showed areas of snow from Cedartown to Ellijay to Lawrenceville and as far south as Macon to Hamilton. As of 6:30 a.m., Georgia Power reported 230,000 outages across the state, with most of them in the Augusta area, said Georgia Power spokeswoman Carol Boatright. About 10,000 customers were without electricity in Macon, with nearly 3,000...

By The Macon Telegraph
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Feb. 13--Snow is falling after a layer of ice on Middle Georgia roads is already making travel treacherous early Thursday as tens of thousands of Middle Georgians huddle without electricity.

The National Weather Service issued a Special Weather Statement advising of light snow before 9 a.m. Thursday.

After 7:30 a.m., radar showed areas of snow from Cedartown to Ellijay to Lawrenceville and as far south as Macon to Hamilton.

As of 6:30 a.m., Georgia Power reported 230,000 outages across the state, with most of them in the Augusta area, said Georgia Power spokeswoman Carol Boatright.

About 10,000 customers were without electricity in Macon, with nearly 3,000 outages reported in the east side of Bibb County along Millerfield and Jeffersonville roads.

In the Milledgeville area, 15,000 outages were reported.

The Monroe County area reported another 900 outages, with the bulk of those closer to Jackson and about three dozen in Forsyth, she said.

Another 1,000 customers were without electricity in the Dublin area, she said.

The total 26,000 outages in Middle Georgia are related to 271 separate instances.

Since Tuesday, 470,000 of the utility company's customers lost electricity, but service has been restored to 270,000, Boatright said.

Crews will not be able to fully estimate when power will be restored until Thursday afternoon, she said.

Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation reported 16,000 outages as of 5 a.m. Thursday.

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Additional crews are working to restore outages.

Flint Energies reported about 52 members without electricity as of 8:30 a.m., primarily near Crawford County.

Bibb County deputies worked several accidents due to icy roads, including wrecks on Interstates 16, 75 and 475.

At about 4 a.m. the switchboard began lighting up at the Macon-Bibb 911 Center.

One accident has blocked all lanes of I-475 northbound at the split with I-75 North in south Bibb County. The road was still closed as of 7:45 a.m.

Macon-Bibb EMA Deputy Director Rodney Roberson said spotty black ice is prevalent on bridges and overpasses.

Numerous trees and power lines are down, but crews are working to restore service, Roberson said.

In Monroe County, numerous roads are impassable due to downed trees after about a half-inch of ice accumulated on branches and power lines, said Monroe County EMA Director Matt Perry.

Power is out for much of Monroe County and the phone lines are down at the sheriff's office, Perry said.

He urges everyone to stay off the roads.

"It's a horrible inconvenience, and we understand that," Perry said. "But stay off the roads. The power's going to be out for a while."

The Baldwin County Sheriff's Office reports numerous downed trees have closed Linton Road from the Sparta Highway to the Hancock County line.

Conditions appear to be better farther south.

Houston County 911 reported seeing some snow flurries at about 6 a.m., but no major problems. Salt trucks took care of an earlier icy patch on Watson Boulevard near Interstate 75.

Robins Air Force Base has delayed opening beginning at 9 a.m. Specific reporting instructions will be delivered through the chain of command, according to a news release early Thursday.

Crawford County deputies urged extreme caution, although roads were driveable.

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The Jones County Sheriff's Office did not report any road closings or slick spots as of 5 a.m.

The Peach County Sheriff's Office reported conditions were "good, so far," as of 5 a.m.

A thick layer of ice is reported in the Macon area, and the updated National Weather Service forecast still calls for a 40 percent chance of light snow before 8 a.m. with an accumulation of less than a half-inch possible.

Thursday's high is expected to reach into the upper 40s, but forecasters are waiting to see how much sunshine breaks through before determining how quickly the ice will melt.

The Ice Storm Warning remains in effect until 1 p.m. Thursday for areas south of Interstate 20 and north of a line from LaGrange to Perry to Swainsboro.

Areas of sleet and freezing rain are expected to continue early this morning and change to snow after 7 a.m. east of a Madison to Macon to Fort Valley line.

Return to macon.com for further updates on the weather and road conditions. Here is an earlier version of the story:

A day of cold rain dropped a wintry mix across Middle Georgia on Wednesday, but the lingering worry was whether freezing temperatures overnight would create problems Thursday morning.

An overnight forecast for much of the midstate called for sleet after midnight, then a chance of snow afterward. Accumulations of ice, snow and sleet were possible with temperatures perhaps reaching into the upper 20s, according to the National Weather Service.

With highs in the mid-40s on Thursday, though, much of the winter storm will soon be history.

Forecasts for much of the midstate had called for heavier ice accumulations Wednesday, but temperatures above freezing for much of the region kept more serious trouble at bay, at least by early Wednesday evening.

Downed limbs and trees were reported across the area, including neighborhoods off Rivoli Drive in northwest Bibb County, as well as areas off Ridge and Overlook avenues, knocking out power.

Thousands of people lost electric service in the midstate during the day, but much of it had been restored by Wednesday night. Across the state, more than 133,000 Georgia Power customers still were without power at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

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"Macon dodged a little bit of a bullet, but it's going to be dicey overnight. There is still some storm to come through," meteorologist Matt Sena said Wednesday night. Overall, though, "it's not as bad as it could have been."

There was no ice accumulation reported at Middle Georgia Regional Airport by 7 p.m. Wednesday, but there was ice forecast for the overnight hours.

Road conditions before sunrise Thursday, he said, "are going to be a little treacherous" in places, a forecast that prompted many schools, government offices and businesses to either remain closed Thursday or to open later than usual.

While Atlanta and points east and north were beginning to ice over solidly, temperatures in Middle Georgia were expected to hover at or just above freezing until around 10 p.m.

Mayor Robert Reichert declared a state of emergency for Macon-Bibb County a few minutes after 7 p.m. Wednesday.

That uncertainty led local officials, including those of Bibb County schools, to postpone decisions about closing. But by 4:30 p.m., those decisions were made.

"We have decided to close school (Thursday) for students," said David Gowan, director of risk management for Bibb County schools. "Staff are to report at 12 noon."

A decision on Friday classes will be made Thursday, he said. School officials were concerned about road conditions and decided on closing after consulting with forecasters and local emergency-service officials.

Houston County school officials didn't wait and announced shortly before 1 p.m. that they would be closed Thursday as well.

Macon-Bibb County offices will open at noon Thursday.

"The worst for us is yet to come," Mayor Robert Reichert said Wednesday afternoon. "We have been extremely lucky, throughout the night last night and all day today."

If city-county workers think it's risky for them to go to work Thursday, they should call their supervisors, Public Affairs Director Chris Floore said.

"We're asking the employees to be cautious," he said.

The Macon-Bibb employees who deal directly with weather conditions are being scheduled to work through the expected overnight freeze and into the morning, Floore said. Salt trucks are standing by to coat bridges and intersections, he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Houston County EMA Director Jimmy Williams said the county had skated a thin line between an ordinary drizzle and a significant ice storm.

"We are playing a game of craps right now," he said. "We just roll the dice, and it could go either way."

Roads in the High Falls area were freezing Wednesday afternoon, said Matt Perry, Monroe County's emergency management director.

The roads, and others in the county, were closed periodically until sand could be strewn to make them safer for travel, Perry said.

"For the most part, people are staying off the roads," he said.

An ice storm warning will remain in effect through Thursday morning.

Power problems

The number of people without power in Middle Georgia steadily grew Wednesday as a wave of the storm moved through the region.

While the tally stood at about 3,700 customers without power just before 11 a.m., the number had grown to more than 6,100 at midday. While some fortunate souls were without power for only a few hours, estimates for when power would be restored to some areas were as late as 1 a.m. Thursday.

For the most part, the outages were indiscriminate and spotty. They were spread wide geographically, attacking city and rural dwellers alike.

Monroe, Jones and Baldwin counties seemed to take the hardest hit.

As of about 2 p.m., Central Georgia EMC reported about 355 customers were without electricity near High Falls in Monroe County and another 120 were in the dark near Forsyth.

At some point in the day, a main feeder line for Southern Rivers Energy failed in the southwest part of Monroe County, Perry said.

Early in the afternoon, the power company reported about 340 customers were without power in a swath stretching from just south of Forsyth into Lamar County.

As of 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, Georgia Power reported about 1,730 customers without electricity in various parts of Bibb County. It might be the wee hours of Thursday morning before some customers can light a bulb.

Another 1,467 Georgia Power customers were without power in various parts of Jones County, and about 980 without electricity in Baldwin County.

Tri-County EMC was reporting outages affecting about 4,300 customers in its coverage area. In Jones County about 2,200 customers were awaiting restoration at 4:30 p.m.Baldwin County had 660 customers still without power at that time, while Putnam County had 1,050.

Brian Green, a spokesman for Georgia Power, said all the outages his company saw in Middle Georgia were related to the storm.

"The storm moved through and ice formed on tree limbs that fell onto lines, knocking them down," Green said.

He urged customers to monitor conditions on their mobile devices by visiting www.georgiapower.com/storms.

"Just remain patient with us," Green said. "We're going all we can to respond to all the outages."

Christy Chewing, a Central Georgia EMC spokeswoman, said trees were toppling with the ground wet and tree tops being heavy with ice.

"As it's getting colder, we're going to see more outages," she said.

Staff writers Amy Leigh Womack, Jim Gaines, Mike Stucka and Oby Brown contributed to this report.

___

(c)2014 The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Ga.)

Visit The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Ga.) at www.macon.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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