By Lauren Foreman
Some schools were closed, others planned early dismissals and the governor declared a state of emergency in 21 counties ahead of a system that may dump as much as 2 inches of snow in metro Atlanta and more than a foot in higher elevations in north Georgia.
Wet conditions Friday morning led to downed trees and crashes throughout metro Atlanta, according to the WSB 24-hour Traffic Center. There were nine accidents on I-285 as of 6:35 a.m., the Traffic Center’s Mark Arum said.
The rain has since slowed on the west side of metro Atlanta, and the wind has picked up.
A wind advisory is in effect until 7 p.m. Friday for north Georgia, Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Karen Minton said. Wind gusts of up to 50 mph may knock out power lines and down trees Friday north of Atlanta.
A winter weather advisory for accumulating snow and ice will be in effect from 3 p.m. Friday through 7 p.m. Saturday for metro Atlanta, and a winter storm warning for far north Georgia through 7 p.m. Saturday, according to Channel 2 meteorologists.
Metro Atlanta could get a dusting to 2 inches of snow and a quarter inch of ice. Higher elevations in north Georgia could get more than a foot of snow, while other areas are expected to get between 2 and 8 inches.
Meteorologist Brian Monahan said wind gusts were traveling at more than 30 mph over most of north Georgia just after 5 a.m., and conditions will stay windy through the afternoon hours.
“This is all part of the same storm that will bring feet of snow to Washington, DC,” he said.
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Several school districts announced they will close Friday, including those in Cherokee, Forsyth and Hall counties.
Others — Cobb, Clayton, DeKalb, Douglas and Fulton county schools — will close early. Woodward Academy will close at noon Friday and will be closed for SAT testing on Saturday.
State government offices will also close by noon Friday.
Deal ordered state agency heads to encourage employees to telecommute where appropriate and called on local governments and private businesses in metro Atlanta and north Georgia to do the same.
The frigid weather is part of a new weather system that will move through the area following one that dumped several inches of snow in the far north Georgia mountains earlier this week.
The Mid-Atlantic region was also preparing for up to 2 feet of heavy, wet snow and blizzard conditions, and major airlines, including Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, were canceling or adjusting flight schedules.
Temperatures were 44 degrees in Atlanta, 38 degrees in Blairsville and 43 in Griffin just after 6:45 a.m.
State of emergency
Deal added more counties to a state of emergency order that is in effect through midnight Sunday. The counties covered by his emergency order include Banks, Catoosa, Dade, Dawson, Fannin, Franklin, Gilmer, Gordon, Habersham, Hall, Hart, Lumpkin, Murray, Pickens, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union, Walker, White and Whitfield counties.
Deal said the one-two punch of rain then snowfall could hinder state emergency preparations that rely on the use of brine on the roadways.
“If it comes with the rain first – which is now predicted to do – we cannot put the brine on the roads while it’s raining,” the governor said. “We need a period for the rain to dry out before we put the brine. We’ll make decisions based on the facts as we see them.”
Despite the tricky timetable, Georgia Emergency Management Agency Director Jim Butterworth said the state is “absolutely” prepared no matter how the forecasts shift.
“We’re going to have some rain in the morning, the rain is going to stop, and then the wintry precipitation is going to begin,” Butterworth said. “The timing is going to be key. And communication is going to be an absolute necessity.”
Deal said the timing could also work in Georgia’s favor since the brunt of the storm is set to hit over the weekend.
Rain, then snow
Channel 2 Action News meteorologists said a mix of rain and freezing rain will hit far northeast Georgia at 7 a.m. Friday. Some areas were already seeing snowfall just after 6 a.m.
Monahan said the heaviest rain will move away from metro Atlanta over the next couple of hours, but the transition to wintry mix is expected late this afternoon, maybe early evening.
Colder air will continue to blow in through the late afternoon, and precipitation will start to change over to light snow showers and flurries around 9 p.m. Friday across metro Atlanta and North Georgia, meteorologist Brad Nitz said.
Those snow flurries are expected to continue overnight into early Saturday morning. Nitz said snow flurries will be widespread across metro Atlanta and north Georgia, but they should taper off by later Saturday morning.
—Staff writers Greg Bluestein and Christopher Seward contributed to this article.