U.S. South braces for snow and freezing cold ahead of winter storm

(Reuters) - Icy roads and freezing temperatures prompted school closings and emergency preparations in several states in the U.S. South on Wednesday, as snow began to fall on some areas ahead of a major storm expected to blast snow across the Northeast later this week.

Winter weather advisories and watches were in place from southern Ohio to northern Georgia, west to Arkansas and Mississippi, east to New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania, and as far south as Georgia and North Carolina.

Light snow accumulation and some ice was already being reported on Wednesday afternoon in the western Carolinas and northern Georgia, according to the National Weather Service. Forecasts called for freezing rain and sub-freezing temperatures in the Southern Appalachians that would make roads dangerous for motorists later in the evening.

The University of Northern Georgia in Dahlonega was coated in a light blanket of white by early Wednesday afternoon, according to photos posted on Twitter.

“What a beautiful sight!” read a posting by Visit Dahlonega.

The precipitation was expected to taper off before the major winter storm hits Thursday night, the weather service said.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency late on Tuesday in 15 counties, and at least 20 school districts in the state canceled classes or planned early dismissals ahead of the frigid weather, according to WSB-TV in Atlanta.

In North Carolina, state officials began preparing for the possibility of conditions that could turn roadways dangerously slick. “North Carolina is in store for the coldest temperatures of the season,” Governor Pat McCrory said in a statement.

The winter weather triggering alarm in the South is only a precursor to a storm forecast to dump snow across the U.S. Northeast starting on Friday, said Rich Otto, a meteorologist with the NWS Weather Prediction Center.

As much as 2 feet of snow is possible in Virginia and extending from Washington, D.C. to New York and Boston, the weather service and local forecasters said.

Some 50 million people could be affected by the late-week “monster storm,” expected to bring blizzards and white-out conditions to some mid-Atlantic states and immobilize travel along several highways and interstates in those areas, according to forecasters on

“Crews may not be able to keep up with the storm in portions of Virginia, West Virginia, southern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware and Maryland,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Henry Margusity said. “Some communities could be isolated for a few days.”

Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Fla., and Karen Brooks in Fort Worth, Texas; Editing by Dan Grebler