Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) -- It so rarely snows in Mobile, Alabama, that the city's public works department doesn't bother keeping road salt on hand.
So with 2 to 4 inches of snow expected to fall there starting Thursday afternoon, road crews were filling trucks with the sand that's typically reserved for filling cave-ins and for sandbagging during floods.
"We don't know what to do," said John Windley, Mobile's superintendent of public works. "We just tell everybody to stay home."
As forecasters predict up to 8 inches of snow across a swath of the Southeast that hasn't seen more than an inch of snow in at least a decade -- including parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi -- public officials are reacting with a mix of trepidation and helplessness.
Hundreds of flights into and out of Atlanta have been canceled for Friday as snow bears down on the area.
Delta Air Lines canceled about 800 flights into and out of Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, and AirTran Airways canceled 32 flights ahead of the storm, according to representatives of the airlines.
Downtown Atlanta could get as much as 5 inches of snow Friday, beginning at mid-morning, according to CNN weather modeling.
Many residents of the Deep South, meanwhile, are expressing disbelief.
"I'm dubious," said John Hogan, a college professor who's planning to lead a Mardi Gras parade in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Friday night despite forecasts of up to 2 inches of snow and ice there. "It snows here once every 15 years, so what's the likelihood?"
John DeMiller, owner of the Petit Bois Grocery in Biloxi, Mississippi, was also skeptical.
"To be honest, we don't believe it's going to snow," he said. "It just never does."
Yet it was already snowing in parts of the South by Thursday afternoon and forecasters were calling for more to come.
The storm system moving across the Deep South in the next few days will bring 3 to 6 inches of snow to Jackson, Mississippi, up to 2 inches to Biloxi, Mississippi and 2 to 4 inches to Mobile, Alabama, said CNN meteorologist Sean Morris.
"These are cities that rarely see a flake all winter long," he said.
With most of the accumulation expected overnight, school and workplaces across the region are bracing for closures Friday.
Because temperatures are expected to rise into the 30s and 40s across much of the South on Friday, road crews are worried about melting and refreezing on roads over the next couple of days.
A representative of the Federal Aviation Administration said the agency is too focused on responding to the double-punch of Northeast snow to say how the expected Southern snow would affect travel in the region.
But by Thursday night, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport had already measured a snowfall of 9.4 inches, which broke the record of 7.8 inches set on January 14, 1917, and matched on January 15, 1964, the National Weather Service reported.
In Shreveport, Louisiana, where snow had been falling since dawn, the staff at the Naked Bean Cafe said it had only six customers by noon, down from around 30 on a typical day.