With dire storm forecast, many in Ga. stay home

State agencies prepare for the approaching winter weather at the Georgia Emergency Management Agency State Operations Center on Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, in Atlanta.

Another round of rain, sleet and freezing rain is expected to begin walloping Atlanta and other parts of Georgia on Tuesday.

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

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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.

Related: How 2 inches of snow created a traffic nightmare in Atlanta

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.

Georgia prepares for snow: Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal

AP Photo: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ben Gray

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal indicated Monday that he and other state officials had learned their lesson. Before a drop of freezing rain or snow fell, Deal declared a state of emergency for nearly a third of the state and state employees were told they could stay home. He expanded the declaration Tuesday to more than half the state’s counties.

On Monday, schools canceled classes, and Deal urged people who didn’t need to be anywhere to stay off the roads. Tractor-trailer drivers were handed fliers about the weather and a law requiring chains on tires in certain conditions.

“We are certainly ahead of the game this time, and that’s important,” Deal said. “We are trying to be ready, prepared and react as quickly as possible.”

Some residents thought officials moved too quickly. “I think they probably overreacted,” Wilkes said. “It’s to be expected.”

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