Freezing rain and sleet have left close to 555,000 homes and businesses without any power tonight in the southern parts of the United States. The winter storm, titled Pax, was seen moving over the southeast states of Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, before heading off to the northeast. In its wake, Pax has caused the deaths of 15 persons, besides canceling thousands of flights and coating all things exposed with an icy film.
The storm could drop up to 15 inches of snow onto the northeastern states between tomorrow and the day after. The National Weather Service has issued winter storm warnings and advisories to seven states and emergency management officials in Georgia have been warning people against staying outside. The warnings seem to have been taken more seriously this time, for two weeks ago traffic was completely crippled in Atlanta by two inches of snow. Many people were forced to remain in their vehicles that night. Today, however the interstates were mostly empty with thousands of schools and government offices being shut down in the region.
At a press conference held Tuesday evening at the special operations center of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed urged people to stay warm and indoors. “The message I really want to share is, as of midnight tonight, wherever you are, you need to plan on staying there for a while,” Reed said. He also added that the region was witnessing a very unusual icing event, where Georgia could see a predicted one inch of ice cover. On standby are over 200 utility vehicles, sourced from the surrounding states, ready to pitch in when required.
However, with the massive power outages staying warm, even indoors, is going to be a tough task. Particularly in Georgia, which faces the bulk of power outages in the region, it may take close to a week’s time before power lines are restored, according to Amy Fink, a spokeswoman for Georgia Power.
Besides Georgia, North Carolina’s Charlotte may see historic amounts of ice build-up as well as up to eight inches of snow, while Spartanburg in South Carolina could receive nine inches of snow, according to a report by Reuters. The three neighboring states are seeing the worst of winter storm Pax.
A memo issued by the National Weather Service referred to the ice storm as “an event of historical proportions” and “catastrophic…crippling…paralyzing…choose your adjective.” The storm has been compared to the one that gripped Atlanta in 2000, leaving over 500,000 subscribers without power and damaging the exchequer over $35 million. The massive storm of 1973 is another comparison doing the rounds: it caused 200,000 power outages that lasted for days.
Clarifying what the phenomenon, ice storm, means The Weather Channel explained that they were caused by freezing rain. Snow, the website said, when passing through a warm layer (that is above freezing) in the atmosphere over the earth’s surface, melts into rain. The rain, then passes through a thin layer of air that is below freezing and is nearer to the earth’s surface. The subtle shift in temperature causes these rain drops to freeze when they come into contact with trees, cars, the roads or ground and other objects.
The report further classifies ice storms as nuisance (quarter inch ice build-up; dangerous to drive), disruptive (quarter to half an inch ice build-up; begins damaging trees and power lines) and crippling (vast areas with over half an inch ice build-up; severe tree damages and power outages that last for days). With a predicted one inch ice accumulation in Georgia and parts of North Carolina and South Carolina, winter storm Pax may be classified as devastating.
By Aruna Iyer
The Weather Channel