ATLANTA (AP) — A winter storm made its way across the Southeast on Thursday, dumping snow in states recovering from days of rain, playing a role in at least one fatality, and leaving thousands without power.
Weather warnings and advisories were in effect for sections of Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Parts of Mississippi saw 2 to 4 inches of snow on the ground. In Lowndes County, Highway Patrol spokesman Cpl. Criss Turnipseed said Johnnie A. Matthews, 64, of West Point died when his car collided with a downed tree about 5 a.m. on Mississippi Highway 50.
Turnipseed says the large pine tree in the roadway appeared to have been uprooted by wind and ground saturation due to excessive rainfall. The winter blitz follows days of heavy rain across much of the Southeast.
No other fatalities have been reported.
In Roanoke, Va., heavy snow was falling as residents prepared for the first significant storm of the season. Thousands of customers in the southwestern part of the state were without power. Appalachian Power said the heavy, wet snow contributed to outages to at least 45,000 customers.
The National Weather Service said a foot of snow was possible in the highest elevations of southeastern Virginia. At the other end of the spectrum, parts of Hampton Roads could see just a dusting.
In Bland County, Virginia, heavy snow, downed trees, disabled vehicles and numerous crashes partially closed I-77, said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller. Traffic was moving slowly Thursday night and Geller said officials would work through the night to reopen all lanes.
In Alabama on Thursday, northern and central parts of the state were blanketed with as much as 4 inches of snow, forcing businesses and schools to close early and snarling traffic on Interstate 65, where some motorists were stuck for seven or more hours after a series of crashes that caused a miles-long traffic jam. The county emergency management agency opened a shelter at the Cullman Civic Center for stranded motorists, but it wasn't clear how many drivers could even get there.
Traffic crawled across a slickened Tennessee River bridge over a waterway swollen out of its banks. Some areas of the state had received as much as 6 inches of rain since Sunday, prompting flood warnings and watches across a wide area.
Scores of schools, businesses and government offices as far south as metro Birmingham pushed back their opening times for Friday because of the threat of icy roads after freezing temperatures overnight.
Officials closed NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville because of the threat of slippery roads. Engineers postponed an outdoor rocket test to give workers time to get home.
In northern Georgia, the heaviest snow was expected to fall in the mountains, with lighter amounts possible in parts of the Atlanta area. Schools in at least five counties in the northwest part of the state dismissed early Thursday. Winter weather advisories were in effect across at least 25 counties, set to expire between midnight and 7 a.m.
Snow also was possible across much of North Carolina, with as much as 9 inches in the northwestern mountains. Snow was expected as far east as Elizabeth City.
A winter weather advisory also was issued in South Carolina, with up to 3 inches of snow expected in the northern part of the state.
The National Weather Service said Thursday evening that most of the Washington area would avoid snow, although some southern Maryland counties might see an accumulation of 2 to 4 inches.
The weather service said temperatures were expected to stay above freezing in Washington and that if rain fell, it would move out of the area before midnight.
However, a winter weather advisory remained in effect south of Washington in St. Mary's, Charles and Calvert counties. Meteorologists predicted 2 to 4 inches of snow there.
The moisture may be welcomed by farmers in the Southeast, notably in those states hardest hit by the nation's worst drought in decades.
An update Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor showed that about 59 percent of the continental U.S. remains gripped by some form of drought. More than 91 percent of Georgia is in drought, as is about a third of Mississippi.
Climatologists and hydrologists have called winter precipitation — and lots of it — crucial in breaking the grip of drought and restoring moisture to soil and pastureland.