- Associated Press - Thursday, December 16, 2010

RALEIGH, N.C.  | Snow, sleet and freezing rain wreaked havoc across the South on Thursday, causing hundreds of accidents, three fatal, and forcing schools to start late, close early or cancel classes altogether.

Three people died in separate weather-related crashes in North Carolina. Thousands of people there and in Virginia lost power, and West Virginia’s acting governor was forced to cancel a Christmas party scheduled for Thursday night at the Governor’s Mansion.

In the Atlanta metropolitan area and northern Georgia, icy conditions Thursday morning prompted road closures a day after slick surfaces caused hundreds of accidents. Temperatures had warmed and the ice had melted by midday.

Ice also covered roads early Thursday in Louisville, Ky., and parts of Tennessee. Those who ventured out had to allow time to clear ice that coated nearly everything including cars, walkways and the sides of buildings.

“I’m just chipping away,” said Tim Olson of Louisville, who was removing ice from his truck Thursday morning. “It looks slick. I hope it isn’t too bad.”

In Missouri, the freezing rain began Wednesday night and continued into Thursday morning. The Missouri State Highway Patrol reported numerous accidents.

In Ohio, plows were out in counties near the Ohio River. A spokeswoman for Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport said airlines were experiencing weather delays and cancellations. Cincinnati schools were closed because of warnings about slick roads.

“Although it’s unusual to have to call off school because of wintry conditions this early in the school year, student safety always comes first,” said Superintendent Mary Ronan.

Meanwhile, snow was falling or was expected in Philadelphia and parts of New York state.

In Washington, D.C., where 3 inches of snow was forecast, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said the runway at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport closed temporarily so crews could clear snow. Flights were operating, but officials warned of potential delays.

Western New York was getting a respite from heavy lake-effect snowstorms, but forecasters said central parts of the state would get pounded for another day. Weather-related accidents shut down Interstate 81 northbound in the Syracuse area for more than two hours, state police said.

In Florida, farmers across the state were still assessing how cold weather earlier this week affected crops.

Tropical fish and strawberry farmers in the central part of the state reported some losses Wednesday, but the full extent of the cold damage won’t be known for a few weeks. Citrus growers were more optimistic, saying they avoided a citrus freeze.