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February 11, 2014

With dire storm forecast, many in Ga. stay home

ATLANTA — Forecasters issued an unusually dire winter storm warning Tuesday for much of Georgia, but many residents already were heeding advice to stay home and off the roads, leaving much of metro Atlanta a ghost town during the usually busy morning commute.

The storm could be a "catastrophic event" reaching "historical proportions," the National Weather Service said in its warnings. Forecasters cited potentially crippling snow and ice accumulations, and they expected widespread power outages that could last for days. As much as three-quarters of an inch of ice is forecast for Atlanta, and wind gusts up to 25 mph could exacerbate problems.

Aaron Strickland, emergency operations director for Georgia Power, said the utility is already bringing in crews from Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan. Strickland, who has spent 35 years with Georgia Power, said he's never seen an inch of ice in metro Atlanta.

"I've seen people forecast it, but it's never come," Strickland said. "And I'm hoping it don't this time."

Rain was falling Tuesday morning in Atlanta, with snow in north Georgia. Dustin Wilkes, 36, of Atlanta, was one of the few who headed to the office. "It looks like this time it's not going to be bad until everyone's home," he said. He noticed his parking lot was mostly deserted.

It was a stark contrast to the storm that hit Atlanta two weeks earlier. Downtown streets were jammed with unmoving cars, highway motorists slept overnight in vehicles or abandoned them where they sat, and students were forced to camp in school gymnasiums.

Atlanta has a painful history of being ill-equipped to deal with snowy weather. Despite officials' promises after a crippling ice storm in 2011, the Jan. 28 storm proved they still had many kinks to work out.

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School staff were evacuated from Midway Elementary School around 1:30 p.m. due to a gas leak from a nearby tap station. Highway 441 South was closed for approximately an hour as Baldwin County Fire Rescue personnel and Southern Natural Gas employees worked to determine the cause of the leak.

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