ATLANTA -- Louisiana and South Carolina declared states of emergency as a winter storm engulfed much of the Deep South, bringing rare snow and the danger of icy roads to areas not accustomed to battling it.

A hard freeze was forecast across the South, along with heavy snow to some areas, particularly along the Carolina Coast and in Virginia, where a foot of snow was expected.

The threat of icy roads was particularly alarming in southern cities like Austin, Charleston, S.C., Pensacola, Fla., Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans.

"This is is a very dangerous situation because snow and ice are very rare for extreme southern Mississippi," said Robert Latham, executive director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. "We need everyone to have an emergency plan together for this."

At the same time, intense cold continued its onslaught across the north-central and northeastern U.S., with wind chill warnings and advisories in place all the way from Montana to Maine.

the South, salt trucks and road crews were out in force in many communities as snow or icy sleet began coating the region.

In the Atlanta area, which was bracing for up to two inches of snow, several school systems canceled classes or announced early closing.

"We have preparations from a couple of other close calls the past few weeks," said Mark McKinnon, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Transportation said as snow moved into the Atlanta suburbs. "They've just got to come in and crank it up."

Delta Airlines, with headquarters in Atlanta, said 1,850 flights have been canceled systemwide Tuesday beginning at 11 a.m. Of that number, 840 flights from Atlanta have been affected.

Crews were pretreating bridges with a salt-brine mixture before waiting on call to battle snow and ice with salt and pea-sized gravel.

In Savannah, schools were closed and residents were "making a run" on grocery stores, said Bret Bell, a city spokesman. He said the main concern was not so much snow as icing on roads during commuting hours.

"We received mocking, like other communities in the South, for canceling schools when we don't have any snow on the ground, but the last thing they want is school buses on ice-slicked roads," Bell said.

In declaring a state of emergency in Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal warned that heavy snow and freezing temperatures could paralyze most roadways.

"We are working to keep open major corridors across the state, but only for those who absolutely must travel," he said.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency at noon and activated the state's Emergency Operations Center was activated

The state's National Guard was standing by to assist first responders and state agencies if they were needed.

In Columbia, S.C., Fort Jackson planned to stop normal operation at mid-morning and keep on only essential personnel.

Appalachian Power asked its customers in Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia to conserve electricity and minimize the threat of power disruptions during the cold snap.

The utility says PJM Interconnection, which operates the electricity grid for 13 states and the District of Columbia, has issued a call for voluntary conservation on Tuesday because of expected high demand.

The harsh cold pushing into the South is an extension of the hard freeze that has gripped the Midwest for days. Schools in Chicago are closed for a second day.

In Minnesota, most metro schools and the University of Minnesota are closed as wind chills were expected to drop as low as 35 to 50 degrees below zero.

The state was also struggling with a short supply of natural gas in some parts due to a Canadian pipeline explosion.

Xcel Energy asked all customers, including in the Twin Cities, to cut back on natural gas use and hold their home thermostats at 60 degrees.

The pipeline blast near Winnipeg disrupted supplies of natural gas service for more than 100,000 Xcel customers in northwestern Minnesota, eastern North Dakota and western Wisconsin, the Star-Tribune reports.

Contributing: Rick Jervis in Austin, and Brian Eason, reporter for the Courier-Journal, in Jackson, MIss.

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