WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (REUTERS) - Another major winter storm unfurled across a wide swath of the United States (US) South on Tuesday, and forecasters warned that potentially high accumulations of ice could cripple road travel and result in broad power outages in the coming days.
The storm could be "a catastrophic event" of "historical proportions", the National Weather Service office in Peachtree City, Georgia, said of the latest blast of wintry weather to hit the region in recent weeks.
Conditions were expected to worsen overnight, with up to 2.5cm of ice predicted in parts of South Carolina and Georgia.
Five centimetres to 15cm of snow fell in north Georgia on Tuesday, with another 13cm to 23cm expected by Thursday morning, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Darbe.
But Mr Darbe said ice was the bigger worry, with 0.6cm to 2cm expected in the area that includes metropolitan Atlanta.
The last significant ice storm in that region was in January 2000, when 0.6cm to 1.3cm of ice left more than 350,000 people without power, Mr Darbe said.
"We're talking a much larger area and a much larger amount of ice" in this storm, he said. "It could be very dangerous with a lot of limbs and power lines going down."
President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration for Georgia, and governors in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi also declared weather emergencies in their states.
Officials were quick to make plans for dealing with the weather after being criticised for inadequate preparation before a storm two weeks ago. The earlier rare blast of wintry weather in the region paralysed Atlanta area roads and forced more than 11,000 students in Alabama to spend the night at their schools.
On Tuesday, hundreds of schools and offices were closed from Texas to North Carolina, and more closures were planned for Wednesday.
State transportation workers in North Carolina sprayed nearly 2 million gallons of salt brine on roads ahead of the storm to help keep the snow and ice from sticking, the governor's office said.
In contrast to the storm that brought Atlanta to a standstill last month, traffic around the city was light on Tuesday as most schools and many businesses were closed in anticipation.
Ms Pamela Maze, a 52-year-old teacher's assistant in Atlanta, made a grocery store run on Tuesday morning but said she was not worried about the possibility of an ice storm.
"When I'm at home, I'm at home and I don't have to come back out," she said. "I think everyone should take their time and be safe, be careful."
HEAVY SNOW IN ALABAMA
Up to 12.7cm of snow fell in north Alabama early on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. State transportation officials said the snow was heavier than expected in some areas and numerous roads were closed.
"Travel is hazardous throughout the state, and people should avoid travelling as much as they can," said Mr Tony Harris, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Transportation.
In Mississippi, Ripley resident Quess Hood said his family was staying indoors after getting about 5cm of snow on Monday night.
"I tried to move through the driveway a little while ago and wasn't real successful," he said.
Hundreds of schools and businesses in North and Central Texas were closed or had delayed openings on Tuesday, including more than 200 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area alone because of icy conditions overnight that caused several accidents and traffic jams.
A Dallas firefighter died on Monday night while responding to an accident on an icy road. Mr William Scott Tanksley, 40, was killed when a car lost traction on an overpass and hit a parked car, which then hit Tanksley, pushing him off the overpass and onto a highway, media reports said.
About 1,200 US flights were cancelled and another 2,500 delayed on Tuesday, with the highest number of travel disruptions reported at Southern airports in Atlanta, Charlotte and Dallas, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.com.