Winter storm’s effects linger into third day, but warmer days coming

After two days of icy roads and freezing weather, metro Atlanta finally began to thaw Thursday afternoon. And the warm-up will continue Friday and through the weekend, according to forecasters.

But things won’t be completely back to normal for the final workday of a week interrupted by the latest winter storm. Any precipitation that hasn’t already melted could be dangerous for drivers Friday morning, but should be gone by afternoon. Some schools will be closed for the third straight day.

“Another cold start to the day, but then with sunshine, our warming trend ticks us up a little bit more,” Brad Nitz, Channel 2 Action News meteorologist, said.

Friday’s low temperature is expected to be 24 degrees before climbing to 50 degrees under sunny skies, Nitz said. Saturday’s high will reach the middle 50s and Sunday should pass the 60-degree mark, Nitz said. Rain could return Monday, but not snow or ice.

Georgia Department of Transportation crews will be working again early Friday to clear state roads. By Thursday afternoon, GDOT crews had already spread 266,000 gallons of brine on Atlanta interstates, according to spokeswoman Natalie Dale.

Local roads are expected to be especially troublesome to clear of stubborn ice. Dale said it’s easier to clear high-traffic highways than neighborhood roads that may be shaded and where less traffic means less friction to melt icy spots.

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Still, road conditions should continue to improve. GDOT crews will work through the night to address icy patches on state highways.

“Roads today are better than they were yesterday,” Dale said Thursday. “They’ll be better tomorrow than they are today.”

Despite their efforts to keep roads safe for travelers, the icy conditions contributed to hundreds of wrecks. Gwinnett County Police responded to 1,140 traffic-related calls between midnight Tuesday and noon Thursday.

There were also two fatal crashes in Coweta and Paulding counties.

A Thursday morning crash in Coweta killed a Georgia Department of Transportation employee attempting to clear ice from a roadway, according to investigators. Around 9 a.m., a CSX train bound for Atlanta struck a GDOT truck on the tracks at Bethlehem Church Road in Moreland, killing the truck’s driver, according to investigators. Cary Byron Ellerbee, 60, who lived in Thomaston, was extricated from the truck, but died from his injuries. At the time of the wreck, Ellerbee was treating ice on the roadway, according to GDOT.

“We at the Georgia Department of Transportation are devastated to learn of the tragic death of one of our team members this morning,” GDOT posted on its Twitter page. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, and we ask for respect and privacy for them during this very difficult time.”

Late Wednesday, a weather-related crash killed a man near Dallas, the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office said. The driver slid on ice, causing the Bobo Road crash, investigators said.

Antonio Brown, 22, of Marietta was driving a Ford F-250 pickup truck when he struck a patch of ice while negotiating a curve, according to the Georgia State Patrol. The pickup failed to maintain its lane and left the roadway, struck a fence, a tree and a culvert, before overturning onto its driver’s side, GSP said.

GDOT said that while driving conditions on interstates and state routes had improved drastically by late Thursday, there were still icy patches, particularly on side streets. 

On Friday, MARTA rail service is scheduled to begin at 4:30 a.m. on a modified weekend schedule, with trains arriving every 7-15 minutes, according to a spokeswoman. Limited bus service also resumes at 4:30 a.m., with buses running on major roads and routes serving medical facilities. MARTA will be fully staffed with hopes of returning all bus routes to service, Stephany Fisher, MARTA spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement.

Some students will get a third snow day on Friday, but the majority of metro schools will be back in session. Cobb, Clayton, Coweta, Bartow, Carroll, Douglas and Paulding county school systems were among the first to announce they would remain closed, along with Atlanta Public Schools. 

The state Legislature, which delayed its starting times Thursday, will reconvene Friday morning at 10 and state government offices will reopen as usual.

— Staff writers Ellen Eldridge and Steve Burns contributed to this report.

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