ATLANTA — Gov. Sonny Perdue declared a state of emergency in Georgia on his final night in office Sunday as the state was blasted with winter weather that was dumping inches of snow in metro Atlanta and later expected to coat roadways with ice.
As his final act as governor before Nathan Deal is inaugurated Monday morning, Perdue issued the executive order hours before the storm hit. By late Sunday, snow and ice had covered the ground in Atlanta, with 2 to 3 inches reported west and northwest of the city.
"We don't have weather events like this," Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in an on-air interview with CNN. "I think the amount of snow we're getting is probably a 10-year event for the city of Atlanta."
Deal had already canceled a gala scheduled for Monday night and moved his afternoon inauguration ceremony inside the Capitol.
"We believe the safety of the Georgia public is primary," Deal said. "We are encouraging everyone who was coming to stay off the roads. We don't want disappointment to change into catastrophe."
Georgia was expecting up to 6 inches of snow in the northern mountains from the powerful storm that also dumped snow and ice in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Forecasters said the front could also bring sleet and freezing rain lasting into Tuesday in Georgia.
The snow in downtown was coming down heavily, coating sidewalks and streets. Cars were having trouble on the slippery streets with numerous slideoffs, though there are no immediate reports of serious accidents. At times, the snow was mixing with sleet, said National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Beasley.
Reed said the city starting planning days ago on how to handle the snow and ice. Last month, officials were criticized for seeming unprepared for ice-slicked roads that snarled traffic and caused hundreds of car crashes throughout metro-Atlanta and north Georgia.
Reed said the city has equipment, but that it's just a matter of how often it's used compared to northern cities.
The heaviest snow was in a band from Marietta to Lawrenceville to Athens, Beasley said.
The snow had not knocked down power lines or trees, but that could change as it turns into freezing rain, Beasley said.
Across the state, cities readied for the weather. School districts and colleges, including the University of Georgia, canceled classes; salt and sand trucks were brought out; and residents flocked to grocery stores for last-minute provisions. The Georgia Supreme Court canceled oral arguments scheduled for Monday.
Hundreds of flights were canceled at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport ahead of the storm and more flights were expected to be scrapped.
Delta Air Lines canceled 330 flights starting about 8 p.m. Sunday and another 1,400 flights Monday. AirTran Airways canceled 14 flights for Sunday and 270 for Monday, spokesman Christopher White said.
Both airlines are allowing passengers whose flights are canceled to change them without fees.
The Georgia Department of Transportation brought in additional salt, sand and gravel from south Georgia, spokeswoman Teri Pope told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Transportation crews were told to report to work at 6 p.m. Sunday and another 200 people were on call in Atlanta and other cities across the state.
"There is no fooling around," Pope told the newspaper.
For the inauguration, viewing rooms will be set up in the Capitol because of limited seating in the House chambers. The 2:30 p.m. ceremony will also be broadcast on Georgia Public Television and live online at http://www.dealinaugural.com/tv.php.
Deal said he decided to go ahead with the inauguration because he wanted to be sworn in on the day the new General Assembly started.
Deal said the gala and the prayer service will be rescheduled for the spring. All 4,000 tickets sold for the $50-per-person gala will be refunded.