John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
This monstrous weather system is set to make history with the potential to knock out power for a week.
The first round of freezing precipitation fell yesterday out of a monstrous storm the National Weather Service has warned is potentially "catastrophic." Now it's time for the real bad weather to begin in the South, with snapping power lines, traffic accidents, and thick accumulations of ice that could cover everything like flash-melted bulletproof glass.
The storm is predicted to mow over the Southern states today and tonight and then turn north to deliver more snowy grief up the Atlantic coast, with a possible 5 to 10 inches in Washington, D.C. People in its path are bracing for the worst. South Carolina has declared a civil emergency for expected power outages and hazardous road conditions. The NWS bureau responsible for Atlanta, a city just now recovering from another unusual winter storm, is stressing the danger with an urgency not far removed from the infamous Hurricane Katrina "Doomsday Statement." Here are a few excerpts from its bulletin at 9:08 p.m. Tuesday:
IMPACTS...SNOW...SLEET AND FREEZING RAIN WILL ACCUMULATE ON ROADS MAKING FOR HAZARDOUS DRIVING CONDITIONS THROUGH THURSDAY. AS THE MORE SIGNIFICANT SNOW AND ICE OCCURS WEDNESDAY AND WEDNESDAY NIGHT...TRAVEL WILL BE NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE. WIDESPREAD AND EXTENDED POWER OUTAGES ARE LIKELY AS ICE ACCUMULATES ON TREES AND POWERLINES AND BRINGS THEM DOWN. PLEASE PREPARE TO BE WITHOUT POWER IN SOME LOCATIONS FOR DAYS AND PERHAPS AS LONG AS A WEEK. ONCE THE ICE BEGINS TO MELT ON THURSDAY AND FRIDAY... FALLING ICE FROM BRIDGES AND OVERPASSES WILL CREATE AN ADDITIONAL HAZARD.
A potential week without power? I'll just go ahead and post this link to the Survival Preps blog detailing how to maybe handle a massive electrical drought, including hitting the ATMs early, buying batteries, and dealing with soul-killing lines at the gas station.
Here was the interesting view last night from the Texas city of Longview, about a two-hour's drive east of Dallas:
Tuesday evening's "ice storm warning" for a large area south and east of Atlanta is equally freaky, with its prognostication of "WARNER ROBINS AND MACON SEEING ANYWHERE FROM A TENTH TO A QUARTER INCH OF ICE. FURTHER NORTH HOWEVER...MORE CRIPPLING EFFECTS ARE LIKELY WITH A HALF TO POSSIBLY AS HIGH AS AN INCH OF ICE FROM THIS STORM." With that kind of heavy freezing, people would be wise in the coming days to stay far from super-high structures like TV and radio towers – known to build up thick ice and bomb it on unsuspecting victims below.
What might the landscape of the South look like by Thursday? Here are a few regional looks at potential ice and snow accumulations, beginning with this NWS forecast for Georgia showing more than 9 inches of powder. It was issued around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. As always, check the agency's website for the latest area-specific predictions:
A band of furious ice-storming is expected to run through the middle of the state, with buildups possibly as major as 1.34 inches:
South Carolina could get up to 6 inches of snow north of Columbia (at the convergence of highways in the middle of this map)...
...and up to 1 inch of ice south of the city:
Farther north, the NWS office in Raleigh is saying that residents should prepare for snow-and-sleet accumulations of 3 to 5 inches, with up to a half-inch plastering of ice. All this will "severely disrupt travel across the area" by Wednesday afternoon, and there could be power outages for more than a day as well as property damage. Meanwhile, in Northern Virginia, government meteorologists have predicted snow totals of 4 to 8 inches by Thursday as well as "some power outages" and "dangerous" travel conditions. Advises the NWS: "IF YOU MUST TRAVEL...KEEP AN EXTRA FLASHLIGHT... FOOD...AND WATER IN YOUR VEHICLE IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY."
Top image: A truck slowly travels on a snow-covered Alabama highway on Tuesday, February 11. (AP Photo/Hal Yeager)