ATLANTA (USA TODAY) -- Sleet and freezing rain was creeping across parts of theSouth on Tuesday, the beginning of a three-day storm system potentiallymore devastating than the blast that paralyzed much of the region twoweeks ago.

National Weather Service meteorologist Michael Mushersaid ice accumulation forecasts "remain mind-boggling if not historical"in cities such as Atlanta, Athens, and Augusta in Georgia, Columbia,S.C., and Raleigh, N.C.

"High ice accumulations will make travelimpossible," the National Weather Service reported in an advisoryTuesday. "This has the potential to be a catastrophic event. Widespreadpower outages are possible as ice accumulates on trees and power linesand brings them down."

The storm ultimately will target more than100 million people, scores of major roads and many major airline hubsfrom Texas to Georgia, New York and Massachusetts this week, AccuWeatherreported.

The storm was already deadly in Texas. At least threeweather-related deaths were reported in the Dallas area, includingfirefighter William Scott Tanksley, 40, who fell from an icy overpasswhen a car skidded into the scene of an accident.

Atlanta,essentially shut down by the last storm, was bracing for the worst.While mostly just rain was falling on the city Tuesday morning, a winterstorm warning was in effect for all of north and portions of centralGeorgia until Thursday night, WXIA meteorologist Chris Holcomb said.

Accumulationsof 3 to 6 inches of snow and sleet were possible in the northeasterncorner of the state, with 1 to 3 inches of snow possible for the Atlantametro area and just south, he said.

Alabama, which saw strandedvehicles and 10,000 students spend the night in schools during theJanuary storm, was likely to get a wintry mix, with as much as 3 inchesof snow and ice. Parts of Mississippi also could see 3 inches of snow,and a blast of snow over a wide section of Kentucky slickened roads andclosed several school districts.

South Carolina, which hasn't seena major ice storm in nearly a decade, could get a quarter tothree-quarters of an inch of ice and as much as 8 inches of snow in someareas.

More than 1,200 flights were already canceled before noonTuesday at airports in Atlanta, Dallas and Charlotte, according totracking service

The storm that shut Atlanta downJan. 28 was primarily a traffic disaster: Thousands of schoolchildrenspent the night at school, hundreds on buses. Motorists spent the nightin gridlocked cars, or they simply left them beside the highway. Manypeople stayed overnight at work. Before the roadways were cleared, localand state politicians came under intense scrutiny for how theyresponded.

The latest storm could be worse. Georgia Gov. NathanDeal today added 43 more counties across middle Georgia to the state ofemergency declaration he issued Monday, meaning that 88 of the state's159 counties are now in a state of emergency.

In Atlanta, trafficwas lighter than usual as many residents heeded authorities' warning tostay off the roads, most schools were closed for the day and manybusinesses shuttered.

The snow began falling early Tuesday inparts of north Georgia, and forecasters say the worst is yet to come forAtlanta and areas south and east of the city.

"When you'retalking about the amount of ice we're looking at, it's catastrophic,"said Aaron Strickland, head of the Georgia Power Storm Center. "It's anevent we are extremely fearful of." He urged residents to "make personalpreparations," and said Georgia Power has begun bringing in crews fromFlorida, Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Michigan to help restorepower as quickly as possible.

"The major thing we're reallyconcerned about is going to be the second wave on Tuesday night intoWednesday and into Thursday, where we could see some pretty significanticing" caused by freezing rain and low temperatures, Gibbs said.

Thestate Department of Transportation has restocked salt brine and sandsupplies and positioned them where they're most likely to be needed,Deal said. He had also implemented a "liberal leave" policy for stateemployees for Tuesday, meaning they could leave work without penalty.

The DOT was moving dozens of road crews from districts in south Georgia to metro Atlanta, said Commissioner Keith Golden.

AdjutantGeneral Jim Butterworth, head of the Georgia National Guard, said 1,400four-wheel-drive vehicles were at the ready to help deal with thestorm.

The Georgia State Patrol was poised to prevent pass-throughtruckers from traveling inside the Perimeter Highway, Interstate 285.The State Patrol was also ready to divert truck traffic from areainterstates onto U.S. highways and to impose a requirement that big-rigshave tire chains.

In Atlanta, Mayor Kasim Reed said the city hasnearly doubled its storm-fighting capacity, contracting for 35additional spreaders for a total of 60 and for 20 more plows for a totalof 40. He said the city was coordinating with 10 neighboring countieson storm planning "to keep each other informed," and had stockpiled1,500 tons of sand and de-icing materials. "So we feel that with thatstockpile we're in a relatively good position."

Atlanta-arearesidents are anticipating a worse storm, as evidenced by the runs ongrocery stores. A Kroger in Smyrna was so jammed there were no parkingspaces in the huge lot Monday afternoon, and the lines inside weredaunting.

"I think there's definitely overreaction," said KenWhite, 48, an aircraft mechanic for Delta Air Lines whose 35-minutecommute from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Jan. 28 took11½ hours. "Well, I say overreaction, but time will tell. They'redefinitely being a lot more cautious. People are going to be preparedthis time."

"I do think (city and state authorities) are betterprepared this time," said Vincent Smith, 56, a Xerox account executivewhose 35-minute commute took 5½ hours on Jan. 28. "They're just putting alot more preparation into it this time."

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