End in sight for winter storm (UPDATED: Gov. Deal news conference)

Tonight should be the last night of hazardous driving conditions in Atlanta area

This shot from a Georgia Department of Transportation camera on Interstate Highway 75 north of Paces Ferry Road in Atlanta shows light traffic traveling north this morning. GDOT officials are urging motorists to curtail non-emergency travel until midday Friday. (Special photo)

This shot from a Georgia Department of Transportation camera on Interstate Highway 75 north of Paces Ferry Road in Atlanta shows light traffic traveling north this morning. GDOT officials are urging motorists to curtail non-emergency travel until midday Friday. (Special photo)


National Weather Service radar image shows the storm system moving out of Georgia this morning. (Special photo)

ATLANTA —While some welcome sunshine gave a premature feeling to some that the winter event that slammed into central and north Georgia this week was completely behind them, Gov. Nathan Deal at a noon news conference today asked the state’s residents to continue demonstrating good judgment as a final night of sub-freezing weather approached.

Temperatures in Atlanta were nearing the 40 degree mark at 1 p.m. today and some sun was breaking through the cloud cover. While that was expected to get some of the snow and ice melting, moisture that remained on roadways is expected to refreeze tonight when temperatures drop to around 29 degrees.

Meanwhile, emergency response officials were moving east toward the Augusta area, which was hit hard by ice from the winter system that was moving up the coast today.

“We have extended the declaration of emergency through Sunday evening,” Deal said. “We do not anticipate any new bad weather.”

But crews were dealing with the debris and other aftermath of the storm, which left ice an inch thick in some areas near Augusta. The biggest concern was power, which was interrupted for 513,000 Georgia Power customers and 145,000 Oglethorpe Power customers. Georgia Power had restored electricity to about 300,000 residences and businesses, but there were pockets of outages and some renewed outages as ice-laden tree limbs fell onto power lines.

By noon Thursday, the ice situation in Augusta was “the most significant effects we’re seeing,” Deal said, adding he would make an aerial inspection of the Augusta area via helicopter with city and county officials from Augusta this afternoon.

As the winter storm system that brought copious amounts of snow and ice to Georgia worked its way out of the state, the governor and transportation officials are urging another day of cautious travel. Motorists in the impacted areas were again urged not to drive unless it was an emergency.

“We are experiencing … a little bit of relief as the sun is trying to shine on us today,” Deal observed, adding motorists shouldn’t be lulled into a sense of false security.

“The roads are still dangerous,” he said. “Tonight, it’s expected to get below freezing again,” which means the likelihood of ice — and particularly dangerous “black ice” that is impossible to see — forming on roadways.

“Snow and ice continued to fall overnight and into this morning,” Georgia Department of Transportation Communications Director Karlene Barron said this morning, “and all along the Interstate Highway 20 corridor from roughly Madison to Augusta, numerous limbs and trees have fallen across roads and power lines.

“Dozens of crews are working to clear the debris in this area but the public absolutely needs to stay home if at all possible until the roads are cleared, plowed and treated for ice.” Georgia DOT crews, now in their eighth 12-hour shift, kept the Interstate Highway System and major state routes passable through the storm.

Georgia Power Co. this morning was reporting 2,604 active power outages in Georgia affecting 233,748 residences and businesses. The outages were on or north of a line from Columbus to Hinesville. Company officials said that while they know about most outages, some pockets of damage can remain after initial repairs.

Those crews will take advantage of moderating conditions today to plow and re-treat roadways. Department Chief Engineer Russell McMurry said emergency acquisitions of additional salt from other states have provided adequate materials to continue re-treatments. Metro Atlanta interstates have received four treatments so far, with two more likely today.

But nightfall will bring more travel concerns, GDOT officials say.

Temperatures again will be sub-freezing in central and north Georgia. Any moisture on roadways will refreeze and the creation of black ice is likely. GDOT is suggesting that motorists wait until midday Friday before engaging in any non-emergency travel.

GDOT’s Navigator map this morning showed all lanes for eastbound traffic blocked on Interstate 20 near Augusta because of debris.

“We are so appreciative of the patience and cooperation Georgians have shown by staying off the roadways and allowing our wonderful, tireless and hard-working men and women to do their jobs,” Barron said. “If people can just bear with us one more day, we think some level of normalcy on most roadways will be possible by Friday afternoon.”

The good judgment shown by Georgians and by truckers who stayed off the state’s highways during the storm went a long away toward mitigating the event, Deal observed.

Deal said it was proof that government officials should “learn to trust the people” to do the right thing when faced with a weather disaster.

“We had the cooperation of the public,” He said. “… Thank you for what you’ve done, but remain cautious.

“We think the human responsibility over the last couple of days has been remarkable.”

Deal noted there were no fatalities reported because of traffic wrecks, though officials in Cobb County were investigating one possible hit-and-run case. The Department of Public Safety reported 305 wrecks with 36 injuries worked so far by the Georgia State Patrol.

In Albany, the National Weather Service reporting gauge at Southwest Georgia Regional Airport showed 2.1 inches of rain from the storm system Wednesday and into early this morning, though some residents with gauges at their homes recorded up to 4 inches.

The National Weather Service said Albany should reach a high of 53 degrees today, dropping to a near-freezing 33 tonight before warming up to 64 degrees as the high for Friday.

Besides the heavy rains making some Albany roads temporarily impassable, the biggest impact has been at Southwest Georgia Regional Airport, where flights to the city’s lone destination, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, have been shut down since Tuesday.

flights are scheduled to resume at 5 p.m. today, though Airport Director Yvette Aehle said she had not been able to reach officials at the Atlanta airport to confirm that will still happen.