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Ice storm covers much of Georgia, Albany spared (PHOTO GALLERY)

Officials preparing for third wave of wintry weather

Heavy rain on Wednesday, nearly two inches from midnight until noon, resulted in localized flooding and street closures throughout the city. Eugmar Park was completely inundated, resulting in the closure of the intersection of Eugmar Street and Second Avenue. (Staff photo: Terry Lewis)

Heavy rain on Wednesday, nearly two inches from midnight until noon, resulted in localized flooding and street closures throughout the city. Eugmar Park was completely inundated, resulting in the closure of the intersection of Eugmar Street and Second Avenue. (Staff photo: Terry Lewis)

ALBANY —While Southwest Georgia missed the brunt of the what may go down as the worst ice storm to ever hit the state, officials were preparing Wednesday for a third wave of the wintry weather.

That third wave today is expected to shift concerns toward dangerous icy conditions that are developing east of metro Atlanta and the Athens and Augusta areas. At a noon news conference Wednesday, Gov. Nathan Deal said that officials are working to anticipate the problems and get resources in line to deal with them.

“We are making preparations to respond to that changing pattern,” Deal said, adding that new supplies of salt and sand have arrived for the Georgia Department of Transportation and that federal officials have sent prepackaged supplies. He said about 1,000 National Guardsmen are working with DOT.

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A sheet of ice that formed on this car owned by a resident of Sugar Hill near Buford is cracked at the door handle for the owner to gain access to the car Wednesday. North Georgia was paralyzed Wednesday with the winter storm that was bringing historic levels of ice and snow to the region. (Special photo)

Meanwhile, there were reports of widespread power outages. Georgia Power reported more than 135,000 customers — most in the metro Atlanta area — without power Wednesday.

Ninety-one counties remain in a state of emergency until Friday evening. Deal commended Georgians for exercising good judgment as the winter blast hit, and said they should not let their guards down. “We should not be deceived. This storm has another wave, and there is another wave coming,” he said, adding that most state government offices will remain closed today.

“Georgians have heeded the warnings,” Deal said, thanking the public for staying off the roads, which allowed for better treatment to keep roads passable. “That is appreciated by those of us who are keeping everyone safe.”

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Building workers Don Johnson, left, and Bernard Washington shovel ice after an ice storm blanketed Atlanta wednesday. The winter storm brought heavy snow, freezing rain and a possibly historic accumulation of ice to the Southeast, 330,000 to lose power and creating treacherous driving conditions. (Reuters)

In Southwest Georgia Wednesday, the concerns were rain related. Between 3 a.m. and 1 p.m., 1.82 inches of rainfall had been recorded at the National Weather Service reporting station at Southwest Georgia Regional Airport. An inch and a quarter of that fell between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m.

The result was some localized flooding and street closures.

“Other than a little localized flooding we didn’t have much of a problem,” Jim Vaught, deputy director of the Albany-Dougherty County Emergency Management Agency, said. “The main thing is there was a lot of rain. We have occasional limbs falling on power lines, and that is happening now, but it is to be expected and is being handled.”

Forecasts called for light freezing rain in Albany after midnight, with a low near or below freezing. That could lead to dangerous driving for early morning commuters if the surface temperature reaches freezing and stays there, creating the potential for hazardous “black ice” on roadways. Those ice patches are difficult for motorists to see, and when they do see them they often appear to be liquid, not ice that can cause a vehicle to skid out of control.

The problem, if it develops, should be short-lived, however, since temperatures in Albany should reach 55 degrees with skies clearing after morning.

Forty miles north of Albany in Americus, Georgia Southwestern State University was operating Wednesday but announced it would delay opening today until 11 a.m. because of expected icy conditions.

Officials with GDOT urged those in the counties impacted by the icy weather to avoid all but emergency travel until at least mid-day today. Transportation officials said that several inches of snow could accumulate in North Georgia, while the area across the state between a line just north of Columbus, Macon, Warner Robins and Statesboro and extending northward to above Interstate Highway 20 were experiencing icing roadways, power lines and trees. Winds gusting to as much as 30 mph could cause limbs and trees to fall on power lines and roads, GDOT officials said.

“Please, this is a very serious situation,” Georgia DOT Communications Director Karlene Barron cautioned Wednesday afternoon. She said sub-freezing temperatures increased the risk of black ice forming.

GDOT had nearly 700 personnel and more than 360 trucks equipped with snow plows and/or salt-gravel mixture spreaders on duty, with about 75 trucks working in metro Atlanta area.Officials sai they were focusing on the Interstate Highway System and other heavily used federal and state roadways, hoping to keep them passable for first responders and emergency travel.

“We have to be very cautious about debris,” Deal said, noting that National Guardsmen and Department of Natural Resources rangers were working to clear limbs that had fallen because of the ice. “We may need more time after the weather has moderated … before it is safe to go out on the roads,” he added.

Asked about the economic impact of the storm event on the state, Deal said some stores may have prospered with people buying supplies before the storm began, but many would be shut down for days. “We are a resilient state. We are a resilient people,” he said. “Life will return to normal soon.”

Georgia wasn’t the only state affected by the historic winter storm. Throughout the Southeast Wednesday, power outages were reported for more than 330,000 customers. Reuters reported that

186,300 were out of power in the Carolinas, with another 9,500 in Louisiana and 3,400 in Mississippi on Wednesday.

As the storm system moves out of the Southeast, it’s expected to bring winter storm conditions northward. Reuters reported that the storm was expected to move into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states late Wednesday and today, dropping up to a foot of snow in some places, including Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia, and New York.

By Wednesday afternoon, five traffic fatalities — two in Mississippi and three in Texas — had been blamed on the storm system, which also knocked out about 70 percent of the flights in and out of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, normally one of the nation’s busiest airline hubs. Commercial flights from Albany, which all travel to and from Atlanta, were expected to resume sometime this afternoon.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Gwinnett Daily Post and Reuters News Service contributed to this report.