Though snow may fall throughout the day today, the most worrisome of the winter weather is expected to hit tonight, forecasters said.
By 7 tonight, forecasters expect about an inch, possibly one to two inches, of snow to have fallen in Whitfield County. In Murray County, one to three inches is much more likely, especially in the mountains, said Alex Gibbs, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.
There should be a small break in the snow this evening as it changes to rain for a while before changing back to snow, ice and freezing rain, Gibbs said. The icy weather is expected to last through Wednesday night and into Thursday morning, he said.
And ice is harder to deal with than snow.
Whitfield and Murray are among 45 counties in the state that were declared in a state of emergency on Monday by Gov. Nathan Deal. Murray is under a winter weather warning until 7 p.m. today, which includes heavy snow. Whitfield County is under a winter weather advisory until 7 p.m. today for possible hazardous conditions.
Forecasters believe it might be Thursday or Friday before the hazardous weather leaves the area and roads become more passable.
Public works departments have been working since Monday evening to prepare roads for the winter weather. Officials in both counties urge people to stay off the roads during this winter weather event.
Murray County eastward is supposed to be hit harder than the western part of the state.
“We are just trying to get prepared best we can,” said Dwayne Bain, the director of emergency management services in Murray County. “From what the models show, we are going to be right on the edge. The higher elevations are always going to be worse.”
Bain said to expect Highway 52 across Fort Mountain and Highway 282 to be closed or extremely treacherous.
“Public works will be taking care of what they can,” he said. “Right now their plan is to be vigilant on the roads, especially problem areas, such as bridges.”
In Dalton, Benny Dunn, director of public works, said his crews started treating bridges and overpasses and other problem areas, especially those around Hamilton Medical Center and the fire stations, Monday afternoon.
“Then we are just going to wait and see what happens,” Dunn said. “We don’t want to use up all of our supplies on this first event when the weather forecasters are telling us the second one will be much worse.”
Approximately 60 percent of Dalton’s inventory of salt was used in January when snow and ice covered many of the roads. More is expected to be delivered, but Dunn worries the shipment may not make it before this weather event hits.
“The one advantage we have this time is that we aren’t supposed to get the really cold temperatures,” Dunn said. “We are only supposed to get down to the 28, 29, 30 range. So I think we can get by with a lot less salt. Hopefully, we’ll get more snow and less ice than last time so we can do more plowing and less salt brining. Last time, it was just an ice pack and we could only try to melt it down.”
In Whitfield County, Public Works Director Dewayne Hunt sent crews to pick up additional salt on Monday afternoon.
“We put a gravel and sand mix on bridges and other trouble spots, but we do not pre-treat them with a salt brine,” Hunt said. “We do it near the time of the event because if we put it down too early the traffic pushes it off to the side.”
Crews will be ready to clear any snow in the area, he said.
“This time we are looking at a couple of separate events over two or three days,” Hunt said. “We’ll be out there clearing the bridges and trying to keep the roads clear, but at some point my guys are going to need to rest. At the same time, we’ve still got to provide service to 911 and the emergency response teams so they can get to the places they need to go. ... My fear is that we’ll clear things off Tuesday and have to start all over on Wednesday.”
Customers of North Georgia EMC should prepare for the possibility of outages, according to a news release from the company.
“During winter storms, ice may accumulate on power lines and trees. The weight of the ice can cause limbs, trees and lines to fall, resulting in widespread outages. Crews are on standby,” said Jeff Brown, vice president of operations and engineering for NGEMC. “Outages may be extended, depending on the amount of damage and the conditions of the roads. If outages occur, crews will remain on duty until all power has been restored.”
Precautionary measures for power outages can be found at www.ngemc.com: click on Storm Center.
Staff writer Charles Oliver contributed to this story.