By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Officials across the southeastern United States braced on Monday for a blast of freezing rain, snow and ice, with Georgia's governor advising "extreme caution" and declaring a state of emergency across almost one-third of the state.
The storm is expected to bring a wintry mix to a broad swath of the country stretching from Texas to North Carolina, according to the National Weather Service. It comes two weeks after a 2 inch snowfall brought the Atlanta area to a halt, stranding hundreds of thousands of commuters and leading to intense criticism of local and state officials for failing to prepare.
"Ice is the big danger here," Georgia Governor Nathan Deal told reporters. "We are exercising extreme caution."
Widespread power outages are likely from ice forming on power lines, a problem the state did not face during the storm that hit on January 28.
The amount of ice possible could be "catastrophic," a Georgia Power official told reporters, adding the utility was bringing in extra crews from outside the state.
"The next three days are going to be challenging days," Deal said.
Deal, a Republican up for re-election this year, has admitted the state's response to last month's storm fell short and vowed to take steps to be better prepared.
The governor said he had put the state's National Guard on notice on Sunday that they could be called up to help, and he directed transportation officials to have equipment in place in areas where snow and ice are expected.
The state's new system for notifying residents about hazardous weather is ready and may be used over the next few days, Deal said.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said the city had doubled its ability to salt roads and was coordinating closely with the state and other municipalities after missteps during the previous storm.
"We're going to be in constant contact with the state," Reed said.
Many Atlanta-area school systems announced they would be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. Some schools in Mississippi also announced cancellations, and the South Carolina General Assembly session was called off again due to the weather.
The weather service said northeast Georgia and the western Carolinas would experience the heaviest precipitation on Wednesday, with snow accumulations of 6 to 8 inches in the mountains.
The largest ice accumulations were expected along the Interstate-20 corridor from Augusta, Georgia, to Columbia and Florence in South Carolina.
Forecasters said widespread travel delays were likely by mid-week across the region.
Arkansas has replenished its stocks of road salt and was pre-treating possible trouble spots ahead of the storm.
"It's been a rough winter for us this year. There are a lot more winter events that we're used to. In a typical year, we spend $6 million a year on weather and I suspect that we've already eclipsed that," said Randy Ort, a spokesman for the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department.
Two massive searches in the state were going on ahead of the storm, one for a small plane that disappeared with its pilot on January 31 and the other for a woman who jumped into an icy river over the weekend to avoid a jack-knifed truck skidding her way on a frozen road.
(Reporting by David Beasley and Collen Jenkins; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Additional reporting by Lisa Bose McDermott in Texarkana, Ark.; Editing by Scott Malone, Stephen Powell and Nick Zieminski)