CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Panicked shoppers emptied shelves of bread and milk, road workers began working 12-hour shifts, and governors in Alabama and Georgia declared states of emergencies ahead of a winter storm stalking the South.
In Cary, North Carolina, Stuart Hall's regular run for groceries looked like something out of the just concluded holiday shopping season.
Hall said the parking lot of the store near his home in Cary, North Carolina, is usually fairly empty when he shops so late in the week. But across the South, many were stocking up on eggs, bread, milk and other staples ahead of the storm's expected arrival late Friday amid threats of snow, sleet and freezing rain across the Southeast.
"Today, it was like mall shopping during the holidays. People going up and down the lanes looking for a spot," he said Thursday. "As I walked in, I jokingly asked if there was any food and the clerk just laughed."
Sherrill Suitt Craig went shopping at a store near her home in north Raleigh, but she had to leave for a grocer in nearby Wake Forest because her initial stop was too crowded.
"I have no idea why, but people are acting like complete jackasses when they hear that there is snow in the forecast," Craig said. "I was just doing my regular shopping."
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for part of Friday and Saturday from eastern Alabama through north Georgia, including Atlanta, and into the Carolinas and part of Virginia.
Schools canceled classes in several states and Alabama and Georgia issued emergency declarations ahead of the storm, which already was being blamed for one road fatality Thursday in Kentucky.
Daniel Noble, 55, died after he rounded a curve in his pickup truck and slid off into a rail fence about 14 miles south of the city of Jackson, authorities said, adding there was about an inch of new snow on the road.
School districts in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia either closed or called off classes early as snow began falling there Thursday and more cancellations were planned Friday, including by school systems in central Alabama amid the threat of up to 3 inches of snow and sleet.
In Georgia, a mix of rain and sleet was expected Friday afternoon, with 2 to 4 inches of snow covering the ground in much of the state by Saturday morning, forecasters said.
Snow-removal trucks and dozens of road workers from south Georgia were moved to the northern part of the state to help clear roads, the Georgia Department of Transportation said. Many of the workers began working 12-hour shifts on Friday.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley issued a state of emergency that will open its emergency operations center Friday morning and put 300 Alabama National Guard soldiers at the ready to help if needed.
In North Carolina, Saturday's ceremonies formally marking the inauguration of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper have been canceled. Activities scheduled for Friday will go on as planned.
Snowfall across North Carolina was expected to range from about 1 inch around Lumberton to as much as 9 inches around Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Durham and Raleigh. As much as 7 inches could fall from Asheville to Charlotte, forecasters said.
In South Carolina, up to 7 inches of snow could fall in the Greenville-Spartanburg area.
The warning for central North Carolina called for a mixture of snow and sleet with up to 5 inches locally and as much as 7 inches from the central piedmont to the northern coastal plain.
Mike Schichtel, lead forecaster at the federal government's Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, said the storm threat is significant for the Southeast.
"If you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle and you think you're safe, you're not," Schichtel said. "Take it very seriously and adjust your travel plans accordingly."
To the west, heavy snow and strong winds have raised the danger of avalanches in the Colorado high country. A storm tracking across central California is dumping significant snow on the mountains, while a winter storm has already coated northern Utah with 9 inches of snow, forcing officials to cancel or delay classes Thursday.
The National Weather Service said snow accumulating for several weeks in Boise, Idaho, reached 15 inches Thursday and broke the previous snow-depth record of 13 inches set twice in the mid-1980s.
Associated Press writers Jack Jones in Columbia, South Carolina, and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.