By CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY, KATE BRUMBACK and RAY HENRY, Associated Press
As crews worked to restore power to hundreds of thousands of Georgians, forecasters hoped warmer temperatures and sunshine would melt ice-coated roads across the state.
Yet authorities cautioned Thursday that threats remain, and Gov. Nathan Deal extended a state of emergency through Sunday evening for 91 counties.
“Let’s don’t let up yet,” Deal said during a noon news conference. “It’s nice to see the sun but do be careful. Don’t unnecessarily jeopardize yourself. And tomorrow morning, those roads are going to be slick.”
Areas near Augusta on the state’s east side were among the hardest-hit areas, and Deal flew over the area in a helicopter with Augusta’s mayor and an official from nearby Columbia County to assess the situation.
Deal said teams of workers with chain saws helped clear trees and branches and National Guard soldiers were among the resources being sent to help residents of east Georgia.
The storm lived up to predictions that it would be “catastrophic” and historic, said Rick Davis, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. The federal agency had issued the unusually dire warnings before the storm.
“As of right now, it definitely stacks up as a top three winter weather event for Georgia,” Davis said.
Deal said the storm was “not nearly as dramatic or traumatic as it could have been” because of early action by the state, warning of the approaching storm and decisions made by metro Atlanta residents to stay home and off the roads.
“We think the human response under these circumstances has been remarkable,” Deal said.
The Atlanta area saw about a quarter of an inch or more of ice, 1 to 2 inches of sleet and 1 to 2 inches of snow for a total of 3 to 5 inches of frozen precipitation, Davis said. In addition, more than 700,000 people lost power at any given time, though in many cases it was restored quickly.
The public may not have thought this storm was as bad because many people heeded warnings and stayed off road, but that’s not the case, Davis said.
“The public perception may be it went so smoothly,” he said. “But if we would have had people out on the road, the reality would have been a nightmare situation.”
The storm prompted thousands of flight cancellations this week.
Peter Holmes, 40, of Alpharetta, Ga., arrived at the airport Thursday morning with his son, Hayden, to fly to a ski and snowboarding vacation at Lake Tahoe on the border of California and Nevada. He planned the trip as a Christmas gift. To prevent interruptions, Holmes had deliberately avoided connecting flights in Northern airports that often get snowstorms.
While their morning flight was cancelled, he got a later ticket to Los Angeles. From there, he was planning on getting a direct flight to Lake Tahoe.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Hopefully that won’t get cancelled, too,” he said. “My theory was to get here early and get anything that was leaving.”
Though icy conditions remained on streets and highways, forecasters projected highs in the mid-40s Thursday and around 50 on Friday in metro Atlanta. In the hard-hit Augusta area, highs were expected to be around 38 degrees Thursday afternoon and near 50 on Friday, according to forecasts from the National Weather Service.
Georgia Power had restored service to almost 259,000 customers as of Thursday morning, according to spokesman John Kraft. Although crews were making progress, new outages continued to be reported. Georgia Power and the Georgia Electric Membership Corp. reported that about 252,000 customers were without service Thursday evening.
“That is not typically as big a problem, but the tree limbs are already heavy and drooping and can break off into power lines,” Kraft said. “There is still a danger. Hopefully we are past the worst.”
Tobias Lee, 18, of Riverdale, took to Twitter on Thursday afternoon and peppered Georgia Power with questions on how soon it might be before the lights at his family’s house were turned back on.
Lee said in an email that power at his family’s home south of Atlanta went out Wednesday morning and the lights haven’t so much as flickered since then. Lee spoke to The Associated Press via email because he said his cellphone’s battery life was dwindling and he didn’t have a way to recharge it.
“To keep warm me and my family just bundled up with extra covers and pajamas. Fortunately we have a gas stove and were able to use that for warmth,” he said. “Luckily our stovetop worked so we were able to cook a hot meal.”
While his mother and grandparents chatted with each other and watched snow fall from the kitchen window, Lee said he played a few games on his iPad and continued venting on Twitter.
It’s hard to predict when power will be restored to all customers because the utility has to assess each case separately, Georgia Power spokeswoman Amy Fink said. Some outages can be immediately resolved but others require extra people or equipment, she said. The utility had 8,000 people out working on restoring power.
The state’s electric membership cooperatives, or EMCs, said about 145,000 of their customers were without power as of 10 a.m. Thursday. Authorities say power has been restored to more than 83,000 customers of the EMCs since the storm began.
The numbers have been fluctuating as crews restored power and new outages were reported.
Associated Press writers Jeff Martin and Phillip Lucas in Atlanta contributed to this report.