- Associated Press - Monday, January 27, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Weather forecasters predicted a rare bout of freezing rain, sleet and snow as far south as Alabama’s Gulf Coast on Monday, prompting school systems, businesses and an airport to shut down rather than deal with the wintry weather.

The National Weather Service said freezing precipitation could begin Tuesday morning across central and south Alabama, with ice accumulations of as much as one-third of an inch possible by nightfall. An additional 3 inches of snow could fall on top of that, forecasters said.

Bone-chilling cold was a greater concern in north Alabama, where some schools and offices delayed openings because predictions said the combination of cold temperatures and wind will make it feel like it’s below zero. Only traces of snow and sleet are expected in northern counties.

Forecasters issued a winter storm warning for the southern half of the state through Wednesday morning.

Gov. Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency beginning at dawn Tuesday, and he told the Alabama National Guard to be on standby.

“Be very, very careful. Be prepared,” Bentley said.

The state’s emergency management director, Art Faulkner, said Alabama could experience extensive power outages because of the winter storm.

High temperatures were predicted in the low 30s across southern Alabama on Tuesday, followed by overnight lows in the 20s. In north Alabama, forecasters predicted highs in the 20s and lows near 10 degrees.

Mobile County schools, multiple city school systems and dozens of private and church-related schools along the coast called off classes for Tuesday and Wednesday because of the threat.

Officials made the same decision in counties as far north as Montgomery instead of running the risk of having buses and teen drivers attempting to negotiate slippery roads and bridges or dodging downed trees and power lines pulled down by ice.

“If we were located in north Alabama where they experience these kind of conditions I don’t think anyone would be blinking,” said John Knott, the assistant school superintendent in Escambia County. “In our area it’s very, very rare to have this.”

In Baldwin County, home of Alabama’s main beaches, education officials called off classes for Tuesday and told parents to watch for updates about when school would resume. Schools also were shutting down in southeast Alabama, near the Georgia line.

A popular coastal attraction, Bellingrath Gardens and Home, said it would close until Thursday because of the likelihood of freezing temperatures, snow and ice.

Mobile Regional Airport closed through Tuesday and the Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama said it would shut down its offices in Mobile for two days, making girls wait to get additional cookies to sell. Austal closed its shipyard on Mobile Bay.

At the Statehouse in Montgomery, the Legislature went ahead with plans to meet after lunch on Tuesday. Spokesmen for the Alabama House and Senate said legislative leaders would assess the weather at that point and decide what to do about their meeting schedule for this week.

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