ATLANTA – Stranded vehicles littered roadsides at daybreak Monday as several inches of snow and sleet coated Atlanta and other parts of the South, freezing the morning commute in many areas and cancelling thousands of flights at the world's busiest airport.
The winter blast rolled across the South on Sunday, coating bridges and roads with snow, sleet and freezing rain and causing at least one death in Louisiana. The governors of Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee declared emergencies and schools and colleges called off classes. Snow and ice had blanketed several cities, including up to 3 inches in parts of Atlanta, which rarely gets so much.
"We don't have weather events like this," Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in an on-air interview with CNN. "I think the amount of snow we're getting is probably a 10-year event for the city of Atlanta."
Despite officials imploring people to stay off the roads, interstates around Atlanta were clogged with cars early Monday.
Georgia was expecting up to 6 inches in the northern mountains from the powerful storm that also dumped snow and ice in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas. Forecasters said the front could also bring sleet and freezing rain lasting into Tuesday in Georgia.
And unlike other times when an inch or two of snow coats the ground, temperatures were not expected above freezing into Tuesday, so it won't melt.
"Since it's going to be pretty cold over the next few days, we could see whatever accumulates sticking around for a few days," National Weather Service meteorologist Daniel Lamb said.
Outside Nashville, Carla Gaster, the facilities manager for 20/20 Research, looked out her kitchen window in Ashland City before dawn Monday and said snow was still falling.
"It's really soft, fluffy and pretty," Gaster said, adding she was glad she didn't have to drive in it.
"I work for a company that allows me to work from home," she said.
Tim Loucks, general manager of the Pilot Truck Stop in the northwestern Louisiana town of Haughton, said he had an empty diner as truckers who slept on his lot during the night were pulling out.
"Interstate 20 is open, but it's moving slow," Loucks said. "There's ice on the bridges and overpasses."
Loucks said the situation was different for drivers trying to drive on local roads. "If you're off the main roads, it's a skating rink," he said.
As snow began falling in downtown Atlanta on Sunday evening, a couple could be seen making snow angels in a park. Later, a few people ventured out from nearby hotels to throw snowballs as snowflakes fell.
Forecasters expected the most extreme conditions in Mississippi and northern Louisiana overnight with the possibility of heavy ice accumulation in places.
In northern Louisiana, state police said a woman died Sunday in a single-vehicle crash on an ice covered highway. Kaneshia Logan, 30, died when her SUV slid down an embankment on Interstate 20 and hit a tree, trooper Cordell Williams said.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said workers had readied snow and salt trucks to help clear icy roads, and he asked all residents to stay home through Monday unless it is imperative to travel.
Birmingham roads were ice-covered and treacherous, weather service meteorologist Mark Rose said. Some areas were reporting at least a tenth of an inch of ice in the central Alabama city, he said. Quite a few roads were closed, and conditions were expected to deteriorate overnight.
Mississippi officials warned motorists that ice on roads and bridges in many counties created hazardous driving.
The weather service posted winter storm warnings from east Texas to the Carolinas.
The snow in downtown Atlanta came down heavily for hours. Other areas were experiencing thunder snow and even lightning.
Cars were having trouble on the slippery streets and highways all over the South, with numerous slideoffs, though there were no immediate reports of serious accidents. Off and on, the snow was mixing with sleet around Atlanta, said National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Beasley.
Atlanta television station WXIA showed people sledding down a snow-covered hill in Piedmont Park on a kayak early Monday.
The storm forced Georgia officials to move Monday's inauguration of newly elected Gov. Nathan Deal from the state Capitol steps inside to the shelter of the House chamber. The inaugural gala was scrapped to keep supporters off treacherous roads.
Thousands of flights have been canceled at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world's busiest.
Delta Air Lines canceled 330 flights Sunday and another 1,400 flights Monday. AirTran Airways canceled 14 flights for Sunday and another 270 for Monday, spokesman Christopher White said. Reed said officials did not want people to be stranded at the airport or on planes.
Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport spokesman David Magana said 200 flights, or about a quarter of the schedule, were canceled in anticipation of the weather.
In eastern Tennessee, the Weather Service said 4 to 6 inches of snow could fall, with the heaviest hitting early Monday.
Churches across the South canceled Sunday night services.
The worship leader at one prepared to use a web camera to broadcast an abbreviated worship service over the Internet from his home since members couldn't make it to church.
"I'll just do one or two acoustic songs, something like that, just to keep it going until next week," said Ben Nelson of Helena United Methodist Church in suburban Birmingham. Besides snow, some areas around the city have gotten a tenth of an inch of ice, the weather service said.
Auburn University students must go somewhere other than campus to watch the Tigers play in the national championship bowl game Monday. The university has canceled all viewing parties and other events planned as the state prepares for severe winter weather.
Associated Press writers Carol Druga and Debbie Newby in Atlanta, Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Ala., Holbrook Mohr in Jackson, Miss., and Schuyler Dixon in Dallas contributed to this story.