A winter storm was making its way across the Southeast on Thursday, dumping 4 inches of snow in Mississippi and playing a role in a traffic fatality there, with the system expected to spread across northern Georgia and into the Carolinas and Virginia, according to the National Weather Service.
Mississippi 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 in Lowndes County.
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 Huntsville, Ala., a mix of thick snowflakes and sleet fell Thursday afternoon, turning roadsides and plowed farm fields white. Much of the state — including large parts of northern and central Alabama — were under winter storm warnings set to expire between 6 and 7 p.m., National Weather Service officials said.
Traffic slowed to a crawl on the bridge spanning the Tennessee River, with snow accumulating on guardrails. The river was swollen out of its banks after days of heavy rain across north Alabama. Some areas of the state had received as much as 6 inches of rain since Sunday.
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.
Heavy snow reduced visibility to one-half mile north of Birmingham.
In Mississippi, winter storm warnings had expired and the snow was expected to melt by early afternoon. The last time central Mississippi got at least 2 inches of snow was in February of 2010.
Weather warnings and advisories remained in effect for parts of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Maryland, in addition to Alabama.
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.
In Virginia, the National Weather Service expected snowfall to range from a dusting in Hampton Roads to as much as 9 inches in the Blue Ridge Mountains and other high elevations.
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 in those counties.
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.