Next up this winter: A potentially catastrophic, historic storm

Atlanta prepares for potentially "historic" w... 02:26

What the National Weather Service is calling a potentially catastrophic storm of ice and snow is making its way across the South Tuesday night – two weeks after snow and ice shut down Atlanta.

Winter storm watches, warnings and advisories are up from Texas over to the East Coast, the storm's next target. Alabama is getting a second round of snow, and along the storm's path, ice is likely to bring down power lines and make roads treacherous.

Ice, snow cause hundreds of accidents in Caro... 01:26
Two weeks ago, it took three hours of precipitation to send Atlanta into gridlock. Local forecasters say this storm could bring 18 hours of precipitation.In anxious Atlanta, roads and highways were lightly traveled all day on Tuesday. Many commuters stayed home. Most schools cancelled classes.

The National Weather Service predicted, "this storm may be of historic proportions" for the area with " totals."  As much as nine inches of snow is forecast for north Georgia. Freezing rain could become ice a half an inch thick in metro-Atlanta – more than three-quarters of an inch thick east of the city.

Snow in the Carolinas contributed to hundreds of accidents as crews tried to keep the roads clear CBS News

 Georgia Power, the state's largest utility, has assembled 5,000 utility workers ready to respond, 2,000 of them from other states.

"All the weather services are projecting a heck of a lot of ice," said Aaron Strickland, who directs storm operations for Georgia Power.

The ice is his main worry.

"What happens there is it builds up on the trees, and we have a heck of a lot of trees in Georgia, those trees start falling, when they fall they bring down the power lines," Strickland said.

The Home Depot in downtown Atlanta had run out of most storm supplies: no generators, no firewood, no ice melt, no storm lanterns and no salt.

The Home Depot in downtown Atlanta had run out of winter supplies CBS News

 The store's manager said many people bought charcoal and propane for their grills. They plan to cook outdoors in the cold if they lose power.

Forecasters think the storm could be Atlanta's worst ice storm since 2000, when a half a million people lost power. The National Guard has been put on alert in case evacuations are necessary.

In North Carolina more than 3,000 customers were already without power by mid-afternoon.

Gov. Pat McCrory CBS News

Heavy snowfall in the Carolinas led to hundreds of accidents. Road crews tried to stop the highways from freezing by spraying 2 million gallons of salt water. 

But the forecast was unclear on the line between snowfall and ice and the snow prediction ranges between 2 and 8 inches.

"The difficulty with this storm-- it is very unpredictable," North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said. "And this team is trying to adjust to the ever changing weather patterns."

The biggest fear is the ice storm still to come. 

"Our roads are clear, do not let that fool you, said South Carolina Highway Patrol Corp. Bill Rhyne. "It's not going to be that way tomorrow," he said.

Eric Fisher, chief meteorologist at WBZ in Boston, says a nor'easter is on its way for the East Coast CBS News
 Parts of Arkansas and Louisiana were also seeing snow Tuesday, and by Wednesday's commute, icing will be underway in Atlanta and toward Columbia, S.C., according to Eric Fisher, chief meteorologist at the CBS station in Boston, WBZ. The weather will stay that way all day and into the night, with freezing rain, sleet and snow.  More than a half a foot of snow is expected in the north Georgia mountains.
Southern storm to become powerful Nor'easter 01:14

The culprit is high pressure anchored over the Northeast and wedging in cold air, he said.

"It's over the Northeast now, down across the Southeast of the United States," Fisher said.

The storm is expected to turn up the East Coast late Wednesday into Thursday, a powerful nor'easter with strong winds, Fisher said. The major cities – Boston, New York, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia – are on the snow line. They will see some snow, but the highest totals likely will be just  west, with more than a foot of snow inland.

  • Mark Strassmann
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.