MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Face-stinging sleet fell Friday in Memphis and surrounding areas, leading to potentially hazardous road conditions and warnings of power outages caused by ice accumulation on electrical lines and trees.
The National Weather Service said winter storm warnings and advisories and an ice storm warning were in effect for northern Mississippi and West Tennessee on Friday. Meteorologist John Moore said a layer of ice as thick as three-tenths of an inch could accumulate on roads, bridges and highways - including the Interstate 40 corridor - making driving perilous.
"It looks like we're going to be stuck with this for one, two, maybe three days," said Memphis attorney Sam Chafetz, who was going home early to enjoy some bourbon-soaked sweet potatoes left over from Thanksgiving.
"I'm not afraid of the ice and snow, I'm afraid of the other drivers who don't know how to drive in it," Chafetz said.
Shipping giant FedEx, which has its worldwide hub in Memphis, was monitoring the situation with its team of meteorologists, company spokesman Scott Fielder said. Delivery delays may occur in areas where the storm caused unsafe driving and flying conditions, he said.
Ice had built up on the windshields and roofs of parked cars throughout Memphis on Friday. In Shelby County, which includes the city, crews spread a mixture of salt and cinders on the streets to combat the ice, while business owners also put salt on sidewalks in front of their stores. Law enforcement reported an increase in traffic crashes, and scattered power outages affected more than 4,000 people, emergency and utility officials said.
Memphis Gas Light & Water, the city's main utility, sent crews to areas that experienced power outages, and had more workers standing by, spokeswoman Jackie Reed said.
"Temperatures continue to drop. Ice has now formed on roads, power lines and trees," the Shelby County Office of Preparedness said in a news release Friday afternoon.
Sleet was expected to taper off by early evening and return Saturday in Memphis. The Tennessee River region and Nashville would likely experience sleet and ice on Saturday as well, Moore said. High temperatures were forecast to be in the 30s.
Residents in West Tennessee were told to prepare for a few days without power, prompting them to rush to stores to stock up on groceries, buy electricity generators and gas up their cars. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell reminded residents to check on family and friends who are elderly, disabled or live alone.
Schools and universities were closed Friday throughout West Tennessee and north Mississippi.
In Nashville, organizers canceled the Christmas parade. The annual St. Jude Memphis Marathon remained scheduled for Saturday.
Sleet also fell in Dyer County, Tenn., where one shelter was on standby and farmers worked to protect crops and livestock.
"We're still getting a lot of sleet falling and roads are slushy and kind of slick," said James Medling, emergency management director for Dyer County.
The Tennessee Valley Authority said crews were being pre-positioned in five staging areas to allow a quick, coordinated response with workers from local power distributors. TVA's emergency operations centers in Chattanooga, Knoxville and Nashville were on stand-by, prepared to provide additional support, the company said.