ATLANTA — Drivers got caught in monumental traffic jams and abandoned their cars Wednesday in North Carolina in a replay of what happened in Atlanta just two weeks ago, as another winter storm across the South iced highways and knocked out electricity to more than a half-million homes and businesses.
While Atlanta’s highways were clear, apparently because people learned their lesson and heeded forecasters’ unusually dire warnings to stay home, thousands of cars were backed up on the slippery, snow-covered interstates around Raleigh, N.C., and short commutes turned into hours-long journeys.
As the storm glazed the South with snow and freezing rain, it also pushed northward along the Interstate 95 corridor, threatening to bring at least a half-foot of snow Thursday to the already sick-of-winter mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
At least 10 deaths across the South were blamed on the treacherous weather, and nearly 3,300 airline flights nationwide were canceled.
The situation in North Carolina was eerily similar to what happened in Atlanta: As snow started to fall by midday, everyone left work at the same time, despite warnings from officials to stay home altogether because the storm would move in quickly.
“It seemed like every other car was getting stuck, fishtailing, trying to move forward,” said Caitlin Palmieri, who drove two blocks from her job at a bread store in downtown Raleigh before getting stuck. She left her car behind and walked back to work.
Soo Keith, of Raleigh, left work shortly after noon, thinking she would have plenty of time to get home before the worst of the snow hit.
Instead, Keith, who is three months pregnant, drove a few miles in about two hours and decided to park and start walking, wearing dress shoes and a coat that wouldn’t zip over her belly.
With a blanket draped over her shoulders, she made it home more than four hours later, likening her journey to the blizzard scene in the movie “Dr. Zhivago.”
“My face is all frozen, my glasses are all frozen, my hair is all frozen,” the mother of two and Chicago native said as she walked the final mile to her house. “I know how to drive in the snow. But this storm came on suddenly and everyone was leaving work at the same time. I don’t think anybody did anything wrong; the weather just hit quickly.”
Raleigh city spokeswoman Jayne Kirkpatrick had no estimate of how many vehicles were abandoned and was unable to say whether motorists might be stranded on the road overnight.
“If we find anyone that is stranded that needs water or food or whatever we can do for them,” city crews will help, Kirkpatrick said. “We hope it won’t be too much longer before it’s no longer a problem.”