FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) – Snow swirled sideways in Kentucky and the typically bustling state capital of Frankfort came to a frozen halt Monday as a storm walloped parts of the South, which unlike the Northeast, had been mostly spared this winter.
That all changed with a mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain across the region, making roads treacherous and knocking out power to thousands of people. Luckily, the storm arrived on a holiday, Presidents Day, when many schools and businesses were already closed and the morning commute was not as busy.
Officials also made certain roads were prepared this year after Southern cities – most notably Atlanta – were caught off guard a year ago when a winter storm stranded thousands of people on interstates overnight. Raleigh suffered a similar fate last year.
Still, some weren’t quite ready for the winter blast.
RL Doss said he had already used his 1987 GMC Suburban – which can haul up to three-quarters of a ton with ropes and chains – to rescue several people and their cars on the hills surrounding Frankfort. Cars were fishtailing and sliding off the slick roads.
“I look at it this way. Everybody is trying to get out, to get their last bit of food and stuff, getting home from work and people leaving for work and stuff, and it happens,” he said, shivering in a pair of tan overalls pulled over a hooded sweat shirt.
Glancing at his truck, the burgundy behemoth, he said: “I like to see what the truck can do and what it can’t do. I push it to its limits.”
In the Northeast, which has been slammed by seemingly endless snow, the white stuff stopped falling but the temperatures were bitterly cold. New York City came close to breaking a 127-year-old record when the temperature in Central Park hit 3 degrees, just 2 degrees above the record set in 1888, said Jeffrey Tongue, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said the latest snow storm left one person dead, apparently due to a heart attack while shoveling snow. A partial roof collapse at an eight-building apartment complex in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, left 500 to 700 people looking for warmth. In New Jersey, a 66-year-old woman who had been drinking at a benefit was found dead in the snow, just two doors from her home. Firefighters working on a blaze in Philadelphia left behind a building coated in icicles. No one was hurt.
West Virginia getting hit hard by the snowstorm when a train carrying crude oil derailed about 30 miles Charleston. At least one tanker went into the Kanawha River and nearby house caught fire. It wasn’t clear if the winter storm had anything to do with the crash.
The storm was headed toward the Carolinas overnight, and then expected to march through the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear urged people to stay home if possible. By Monday afternoon, 9 inches of snow had fallen in Louisville and other parts were buried under a foot of snow.
In central Kentucky, home to much of the state’s signature thoroughbred industry, horses kept warm by galloping through the deep snow, pausing occasionally to shake it off from their thick winter coats. Ned Toffey, general manager of Spendthrift Farm in Lexington, said the horses enjoy running in the snow because it gives them a nice cushion as opposed to the harder, packed earth.
Arkansas, where temperatures plummeted from the 70s on Saturday to highs in the 30s a day later, had nearly 30,000 people without power at the peak of the storm.
Roads were slushy and traffic was moving slowly in Tennessee. Justyn Jackson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Nashville, said the last bad winter storm in the city was 2010 when up to 4 inches of snow fell.
“A lot of cities up North, they deal with this several times during the winter. It’s really not uncommon for them at all,” Jackson said. “Down here, especially in Nashville, although it’s not rare, it certainly on average happens once or twice a winter.”
Georgia officials were taking no chances, bringing in more personnel to the state operations center and pre-treating roads with a mixture of salt and water. Atlanta was expected to get rain, dodging any icy or snowy conditions. Up to a quarter of an inch of ice could accumulate in a handful mountainous northern counties.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory says he hopes the government is “over-prepared and underwhelmed.” It’s been almost a year since a winter storm dumped as much as 22 inches of snow in the North Carolina mountains and pelted the eastern part of the state with ice. In Raleigh, much like Atlanta, many abandoned their cars alongside the road or in parking lots – if they could navigate.
John Moore, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Memphis, said he believes Tennessee was prepared in part because of the embarrassing scene that paralyzed Atlanta last year.
“We got the word out ahead of time to let people know, that even if we’re not expecting a lot, still check your forecast before you leave home in the morning because stuff can change so quickly,” he said.