CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A lingering storm kept dumping immobilizing snow, sleet or freezing rain across five southern states, leaving dangerously icy roads and hundreds of thousands of people without electricity. Authorities urged people to stay home Monday in areas where driving was dangerous.
Accidents on snow-covered interstates caused major delays Sunday, hundreds of flights were canceled and drivers in North Carolina and Virginia got stuck in snow or lost control on icy patches. But the commuters' nightmare provided pre-winter thrills for kids and the young at heart, who were able to go sledding and build snowmen in places that don't often see so much of the white stuff.
The National Weather Service said a "prolonged period of snow" began late Saturday and would last until Monday in the region, with the heaviest snow in northwest North Carolina and southern Virginia. Some areas of North Carolina and Virginia saw more than a foot (30 centimeters) of snow by Sunday afternoon.
More than 300,000 power outages were reported across the region, with North Carolina bearing the brunt of it, and nearly 270,000 remained without power Monday morning, according to poweroutage.us. South Carolina and Virginia, along with parts of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, also saw outages.
Police in North Carolina and Virginia said they'd responded to hundreds of snow-related traffic accidents as of Sunday afternoon, as cars, trucks and tractor-trailers all struggled with the snow and ice.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper strongly urged residents to stay off the roads, asking drivers not to put lives of first responders needlessly at risk. Cooper said emergency crews, including the National Guard, worked overnight to clear traffic accidents on major roadways.
"Stay put if you can," Cooper said Sunday. "Wrap a few presents, decorate the tree, watch some football."
Five members of a dive team searched the Neuse River in Kinston, North Carolina, for a missing driver Sunday after a tractor-trailer ran off a road and into the river, WRAL-TV reported . Police just outside of Charlotte said a driver died when a tree fell on a moving vehicle.
Some found that walking was a more reliable means of transportation as the roads were blanketed with a wintry mix. On Sunday, Tervante Wilkerson trudged through blowing snow up Old NC 98 in Wake Forest, North Carolina, to walk across town to see his two young children.
Still, he made light of the situation, saying: "It's definitely a Kodak moment in Wake Forest."
In Greensboro, a few restaurants were open Sunday night for NFL games despite as much as one foot (.3 meters) of snow falling on the city, according to the News & Record.
"We've got some nice homemade chicken soup, some tacos and we've got beer," Greg Munning, owner of Taqueria el Azteca, told the newspaper. "We're just hanging out and chilling and watching the Panthers game."
The Roanoke, Virginia, area saw 10 or more inches (25 cm) of snow. And it came down so fast that some people couldn't keep up with their snow shovels, such as Adam Thompson, who was working on the walkway to his house.
"That's funny," he told The Roanoke Times. "I just shoveled that part and it's already covered in snow again."
Governors and local officials in several states declared emergencies ahead of the storm crossing several Southern states, which hit portions of North Carolina and Virginia particularly hard.
Virginia State Police said Interstate 81 in far southwest Virginia was particularly dangerous, with snow coming down faster Sunday afternoon than crews could clear it. Police said several tractor-trailers slid off the highway.
Officials warned residents to prepare emergency kits and stay off roads in impacted areas. Several schools districts in North Carolina and Virginia announced they'll be closed Monday.
"Virginians should take all necessary precautions to ensure they are prepared for winter weather storm impacts," said Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport, the sixth busiest airport in the country, said American Airlines reduced its operations, with more than 1,000 flights canceled on Sunday.
American Airlines also issued a travel alert for nine airports throughout the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Virginia, meaning passengers may be able to change travel plans without a fee.
Travelers were advised to check their flight status before heading to the airport. Cancellations were reported on flights from as far as the Midwest.