The Big Thaw Begins for the South After Winter Storm Leon: State-by-State Impacts

February 6, 2014

The remnants of Winter Storm Leon's wintry side have finally pushed off the East Coast, but lingering snow and ice means some Southern schools will be canceled again Friday.

At least a dozen deaths have been blamed on the storm, including five traffic fatalities in Alabama. Some kids who spent the night in Alabama schools Tuesday woke up in those schools again Thursday since roads were still too dangerous for buses.

(STORM REPORTS: Winter Storm Leon)

The Georgia governor said all Atlanta-area students who stayed in schools Tuesday night were finally home by 6 p.m. Wednesday, but there were still problems on roads across the metro area. Several school districts in the Atlanta area have canceled classes again Friday. 

Here is a look at the latest impacts, as told state by state.

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Tow trucks, police and National Guard troops began clearing away thousands of vehicles abandoned during the winter storm as rising temperatures Thursday began thawing out the epic mess on interstates and other roads. Gov. Robert Bentley said the massive job of removing the deserted vehicles that litter Alabama roadways was Thursday's major challenge in the aftermath of a rare Southern snow storm. Bentley said he was encouraging municipalities to just tow cars to the shoulder of the road, instead of taking them to lots and charging the driver.

The final Alabama school students got back home Wednesday night after being stranded overnight in classrooms and gymnasiums because of the winter storm. Alabama Department of Education spokesman Michael Sibley said Thursday the last of the students got home by 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Schools in metro Birmingham will be closed again Friday.

At least five people died in weather-related accidents across the state; Another 23 were injured during the storm. The Associated Press says the deaths were in Wetumpka, Marion and Cottondale. The Alabama Department of Transportation is towing abandoned cars off Interstate 20 to clear it, and car owners can call 205-382-5820 for information about their vehicles. 


Schools were closed again Thursday in Santa Rosa and Escambia counties. Temperatures warmed enough to make almost all bridges in the Panhandle safe for drivers again. The Bob Sikes Bridge, the Pensacola Bay Bridge, the Bayou Chico Bridge and the Theo Baars Bridge all opened again Thursday, according to the Pensacola News Journal.


Cobb, Cherokee and Fulton County Schools announced they would remain closed Friday, as well as Atlanta City Schools. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal took responsibility Thursday for the poor storm preparations that led to an epic traffic jam in Atlanta and forced drivers to abandon their cars or sleep in them overnight. Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed have found themselves on the defensive ever since the snow started falling.

"We did not make preparations early enough," Deal said at a news conference, apologizing to drivers who were stranded and to parents of children forced to sleep at their school or on school buses. "I'm not going to look for a scapegoat. I am the governor. The buck stops with me," he said. He pledged that his agencies would go under review and make new plans, warning the public may be inconvenienced the next time severe weather is in the forecast.

Charley English, the head of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, also took some of the blame, saying he had "made a terrible mistake and put the governor in an awful position." English said he should have declared the state emergency command center open earlier and recommended much sooner that state employees be sent home.

"I made a terrible error in judgment earlier, late on Monday afternoon and early Tuesday," he said at the news conference.

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Louisiana's highway department says every highway that had been closed because of ice has been reopened. Ice closed more than 20 state and U.S. highways for more than two days. The last five to reopen included the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway and Interstate 55 between Hammond and LaPlace.


South Mississippi residents welcomed the big thaw Thursday as temperatures rapidly began rising toward 50 degrees, melting remaining ice on roads and bridges. All of South Mississippi's major bridges were open, but a few smaller bridges were still closed, including the Corso Bridge in D'Iberville and the David LaRosa bridge near Pass Christian. Since those have smaller traffic counts, crews were getting to those last. Any lingering ice should completely melt during the afternoon hours and by Saturday temperatures across Mississippi will be pushing 70 degrees.

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North Carolina

Morning temperatures ranged from minus-4 degrees in Asheville and Reidsville to 32 degrees at Kill Devil Hills. Temperatures went above freezing in the afternoon, but forecasters warned that melting snow on roadways would likely refreeze into black ice after dark. Gov. Pat McCrory urged those on the roads to continue to exercise caution even as conditions improved. Two people died Wednesday in separate traffic accidents in Surry County. Duke Energy reported nearly 3,000 customers without service early Thursday in the western part of the state. The biggest problem is in Stanly County, where nearly 1,000 customers are without service. Charleston County schools announced a 2-hour delay Friday morning.

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South Carolina

The Ravenel Bridge in Charleston has reopened after being closed more than 43 hours for ice. Mount Pleasant police reported the barricades were removed from the bridge a little after 3 p.m. Thursday. It was the last major road to reopen after Tuesday's coastal ice storm. The eight-lane, two-mile bridge closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday. The closing left just the Interstate 526 bridge open during Thursday morning's rush hour from Charleston to Mount Pleasant. It took drivers an hour to make it 12 miles on I-526 from Mount Pleasant to Interstate 26. A few schools were also closing Friday as ice spots remained, especially along the coast. A freezing rain advisory for the coast will be posted until at least midnight.

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Roads in the region are still rough, particularly through the Smokies, so travel is discouraged. The Chattanooga Times Free Press is reporting that the Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency activated its Emergency Operations Center to respond to all the accidents. A few dozens schools in eastern Tennessee will remain closed Friday, according to WBIR-TV.


A combination of heavy snow and temperatures that didn't go much above freezing meant cities were still digging out in Virginia. While the city of Norfolk says it's opening at 10 a.m. Friday, many area schools will either be closed or delayed two hours Friday according to WAVY-TV. The Navy is also telling only mission-essential personnel to report to work at its south Hampton Roads bases. Hampton Roads Transit said there is too much snow and ice on the roads and canceled Friday bus service.

Snow covers the grounds at Talladega Superspeedway Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, in Talladega, Ala. (AP Photo/David Tulis)

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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