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Winter comes early to Carolinas

Forecasters say 1 million could be without power

On this map, the National Weather Service shows the hardest hit areas in red, as of 6:23 a.m. EST Thursday.
On this map, the National Weather Service shows the hardest hit areas in red, as of 6:23 a.m. EST Thursday.

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An ice and snow storm that buried the Oklahoma Panhandle and blanketed the Tennessee mountains blows into North Carolina. CNN's Eric Philips reports (December 4)
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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (CNN) -- An unseasonably early winter storm bore down on the Carolinas late Wednesday, bringing with it ice, freezing rain and heavy snow.

The storm already wreaked havoc from the Oklahoma panhandle to the mountains of Virginia and Tennessee.

Power was cut to thousands in North Carolina, and utilities in other states like Kentucky and Virginia were still waiting for the worst to come.

Temperatures plummeted to freezing and below as rain turned to sleet and ice mixed with snow from the North Carolina mountains to Charlotte.

Forecasters said the storm could leave parts of the Carolinas coated with an inch of ice -- and up to a million people without electricity.

"The most dangerous place for icing remains in the western and central part of the Carolinas," said Wes Junker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Reports of ice buildup in western South Carolina were already starting to come in Wednesday night.

Street maintenance crews in Charlotte covered all their streets with salt and slag, the pumice-like byproduct from the local steel foundry, said district superintendent Ken Martin. That meant area roadways were still dangerous, but "in pretty good shape" by the evening, he said.

Elsewhere in North Carolina, especially in the western part of the state, most areas were deemed treacherous because of the snow and ice, said Kelly Hutchinson, an engineer with the state Department of Transportation.

"We have bad conditions pretty much everywhere west of I-95, the western two-thirds of the state," she said. The worst areas are those near the Tennessee state line, she said.

South Carolina transportation officials said interstates around Greenville and Spartanburg, in the western part of the state, had ice and slush.

Duke Energy reported 30,000 people without power Wednesday evening, the bulk of them in Greenville and Anderson, near the Georgia state line.

South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges closed state offices in the 22 counties that appeared most likely hit by the storm.

Heavy snow mixed with sleet slipped into east Tennessee's Tri-Cities area about mid-day Wednesday, and quickly got deeper.

Weather warnings expired for Arkansas Wednesday night, but tens of thousands were still without power there after the storm went through the night before.

A student loses the football during a snow football game at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina.

Some 60,000 people had no electricity at the peak of the outages, said Jennifer Gordon, a spokeswoman for Arkansas Emergency Management.

Several towns on the storm's path through the northern part of the state may have to wait longer, perhaps until Saturday, because of broken power poles as well as downed power lines.

Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin declared a disaster for 42 of the state's 77 counties, stretching from the southwest corner to the northeast. The declaration includes portions of the panhandle, which received as much as a foot of snow, said state Emergency Management spokeswoman Michelann Ooten.

About 22,000 people in Oklahoma were still without power Wednesday evening, Ooten said.

"We haven't had a thaw yet," she said. "The tree limbs are now covered with, in some places, as much as an inch of ice."

That will cause a problem when the ice melts and the unburdened tree limbs snap up and hit power lines.

"We're kind of bracing for that to happen tomorrow," Ooten said.

Shelters were open in some communities and generators were sent to public facilities like city halls.

A National Weather Service heavy snow warning covered southern Missouri, most of Kentucky, the western half of Virginia, and most of the Carolinas.

Ice storm warnings included northeast Arkansas, northwest and central Tennessee, and northeast Georgia, including Atlanta. Snow advisories were issued for areas just outside the warning zones.

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