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As a wicked storm of ice and snow spreads over parts of Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas and heads toward the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, the National Weather Service is again warning that it's getting ugly out there. Its forecasters say the millions of people in the storm's path should be prepared to stay inside and cope with power outages that might last for days.
Commuters in North Carolina who had hoped to avoid the storm's ice and snow didn't get enough of a jump on the storm, which brought heavy snow just after noon Wednesday. Some drivers are abandoning their cars after hours of delays — leaving them in roadways and adding to the slowdown.
The number of people who lack electricity rose steadily today; as of 7 p.m. ET, South Carolina officials said around 230,000 customers don't have power. Hundreds of thousands of others are in the same situation, from Texas across to the East Coast.
As of early evening, 2,860 flights into or out of the U.S. had been delayed and 3,362 had been cancelled, according to FlightAware.com.
Also by early evening, there were reports of at least 13 weather-related deaths, according to The Weather Channel.
Here is some of the normally calm and cool Weather Service's latest language about the storm, which is moving over the Southeast today and will be in the Mid-Atlantic as afternoon turns into evening:
-- "Winter storm to result in impossible travel conditions with widespread and extended power outages" around Atlanta and across much of Georgia.
-- "A major winter storm with the potential for crippling ice and snow accumulations is underway across the Southeast."
-- In South Carolina, "consider delaying motor vehicle travel until freezing rain ends [around midday]" and then stay off the roads again tonight when freezing rain returns.
-- "Hazardous travel conditions are possible" in North Carolina and Virginia as snow starts to fall in the afternoon and evening.
Our colleagues at WABE in Atlanta say people in and around that city "can expect 1/3 inch of ice accumulation at a minimum, and probably closer to 1/2 inch."
The storm is already affecting Atlanta. According to The Journal-Constitution:
"The potentially devastating winter storm that forecasters and the governor have been warning about for days began unfolding before daybreak Wednesday as temperatures dropped to 32 degrees or below and began freezing the precipitation that returned overnight.
"It's being called catastrophic and historic, and those aren't words tossed around lightly, according to meteorologist Brad Nitz with Channel 2 Action News."
In Columbia, S.C., The State reports that the weather system "is expected to slap enough ice on trees and power lines to be considered a major ice storm."
North Carolina's Raleigh News & Observer writes that "the National Weather Service warned that a 'potentially crippling' storm will hit the Triangle with 2 to 4 inches of snow and sleet mixed with freezing rain that could add a layer of ice as thick as one-half inch."
Virginia has joined other states in declaring a state of emergency.
The Weather Channel, meanwhile, is predicting "paralyzing ice and snow."
Since there's talk of power outages, this is a good time to remind everyone to be very careful about generators and other alternative sources of power or heat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reposted its warnings about carbon monoxide poisoning.
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