The governor declared a state of emergency for 89 counties, including Cherokee, and President Barack Obama declared an emergency for the state, as two severe winter storm systems began moving over north Georgia on Monday night.
Cherokee County School District schools and offices, Cherokee Charter Academy, Reinhardt University and all campuses of Chattahoochee Technical College were closed Tuesday and scheduled to remain closed today, as travel conditions were expected to be treacherous, officials said.
Lt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday marked the end of the first winter storm system that started Monday, and the second system, expected to hit Cherokee from Tuesday night until Thursday, will be “much worse.”
“The whole system is a two-part event. We’ve completed the first part and we’re beginning the second stage,” Baker said Tuesday. “We’re looking at a lot more ice and snowfall total … we believe the worst is yet to come.”
The National Weather Service predicted the winter storms could result in “impossible travel conditions with widespread and extended power outages.”
“If you don’t have to leave your house, please don’t,” Baker said. “If you do have to be out, be prepared. Make sure you have items you may need if you have to stay in your vehicle.”
The first winter storm system left about 1,100 people without power in the Sutallee area, and within a few hours many saw power restored, Baker said.
“We’re urging people to be prepared in case the power goes out in their home, because there’s a high probability that could happen over the next couple of days,” he said.
Reports of icy roads, many in northern Cherokee, came in starting Tuesday morning, and the county will remain under a winter storm warning until 1 p.m. Thursday, said Robby Westbrook, director of the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office Homeland Security-Emergency Management.
Snow, sleet and rain fell across Cherokee on Tuesday, and Westbrook said the second storm system is predicted to bring “predominately a snow/freezing rain mix,” and “transition to snow Wednesday night.”
“Snow will accumulate on roads, making for hazardous driving conditions,” Westbrook said Tuesday in a winter storm update from the county Emergency Operations Center. “As the more significant snowfall and ice accumulation occurs today and tonight, travel will be dangerous, given the high snow amounts combined with the ice. Widespread power outages are possible with the higher ice accumulation.”
Westbrook said 1 to 2 inches of snow and ice were expected to accumulate into Tuesday night, and another 2 to 4 inches are predicted to fall through Thursday.
Baker said residents have heeded warnings not to drive during the storms, and around noon Tuesday the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office had recorded five accidents, resulting in three injuries.
“It appears that the majority of the poor road conditions (Tuesday) were in the Waleska area, and north and west of Reinhardt college,” Baker said. “We had a rollover wreck at the Bartow County line up on Highway 140. Fortunately, there are not many motorists out today, and that’s helped to keep the accident number down.”
Temperatures were forecast to be in the low 30s Tuesday night, and drop to the upper 20s and lower 30s tonight, based on National Weather Service reports Tuesday.
State of emergency
Obama declared an emergency in the state of Georgia on Tuesday and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local efforts.
Gov. Nathan Deal said he requested assistance from the federal government Monday night as the storm approached, and thanked Obama for responding.
“On behalf of Georgians, I appreciate the president’s quick response to my request,” Deal said Tuesday. “My primary request to the president was for generators in the case of power outages. The federal declaration makes those available, but it also allows us to ask for other supplies, such as food, blankets and commodities, as needs develop.”
The president’s emergency declaration authorizes disaster relief efforts from the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Cherokee was one of 14 counties originally included in the state of emergency Deal declared Monday morning, which was expanded to include 45 counties and later 89 counties across Georgia on Tuesday.
“Local meteorologists are advising us to expect a ‘major storm’ that could bring significant levels of snow and ice. We have passed along this latest weather information to school superintendents and local emergency management agencies,” Deal said. “We’ve included health officials and power companies in our preparations because heavy downfalls of ice can knock out power supply … I want to make sure we’re reaching out to health care facilities so they can have backup plans in place.”
Cherokee County Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens approved a local state of emergency preceding the storms, based on recommendations by the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office Homeland Security-Emergency Management Agency.
Ahrens said approving the local state of emergency mobilizes the county’s emergency management team and heightens the state of preparedness. It also provides an opportunity for financial assistance from state and federal agencies in the case of significant storm damage, he said.
“It’s a higher state of readiness,” Ahrens said. “On the back end, if there are particular damages, especially if the governor has called the state of emergency, we would be eligible for reimbursements. So, there’s a practical financial aspect to having the state declared, rather than not.”
Many government offices were closed Tuesday because the weather conditions, and by Tuesday afternoon, some had already announced closures for today, including Cherokee County, Canton and Ball Ground.