ATLANTA--Snow blanketed a vast swath of the Deep South on Friday, triggering a flurry of winter weather warnings that closed businesses and schools, canceled hundreds of flights and caused traffic gridlock. It also unleashed a flurry of snowman construction and sledding in places more accustomed to sunshine than snow.
The storm dropped a rare coating of snow as far south as Brownsville, Texas -- near the border of Mexico -- up through southern Louisiana and parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the southern Appalachians.
"This is an unusual event -- to see snow falling this early in the season all the way from Texas and the Gulf Coast region to Georgia," said Laura Pagano, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Atlanta/Peachtree City office. "It has happened before, but not often."
More than 200,000 customers across the region lost power as snow downed branches and power lines.
"SNOW MEETS SAND!" Wesley Williams, a meteorologist for ABC affiliate WLOX, posted on Twitter as a light dusting of snow fell on the shoreline of Bay St. Louis, a Mississippi coastal city. "The flakes are falling at Mississippi's shore."
Other parts of southern Mississippi recorded some of their heaviest-ever snowfalls in a single day. With 6 inches, Columbia, a small city about 80 miles southeast of Jackson, broke its record of 5.1 inches in December 2008.
Jackson received up to 6 inches of snow, the most seen in the region since 1982, according to the National Weather Service. Dozens of schools closed or had delayed openings, and some businesses also shut.
"It might snow once or twice a year here, but we're not really prepared for this kind of weather, so it really brings the city to a standstill," said Larry Farish, a 61-year-old resident who works as a hotel receptionist.
Matt Lanza, a Houston meteorologist who blogs for Space City Weather, estimated that most of the Houston area got a 2-inch coating of snow. That's more than usual, but well short of its record of 20 inches on Valentine's Day 1895. College Station, a Texas city about 90 miles northeast of Houston, got 5 inches, which Lanza said in a blog post was "their second biggest snow on record."
After snow began to fall across Texas on Thursday night, safety officials in Austin urged motorists to be extra cautious, especially on icy and slick patches on overpasses and highways. Throughout the morning, police closed roads across the city and responded to wrecks.