Winter Storm Helena
© The Weather Channel
The rush was on as millions in the Deep South began preparations Thursday for Helena, a dangerous, deadly winter storm that could cause serious problems across the region over the weekend.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley announced Thursday afternoon that a state of emergency will take effect Friday morning at 7 a.m. CST. The declaration affects all counties in the state, and among the impacts of the state of emergency is the activation of 300 soldiers from the Alabama National Guard to assist mission support teams and command staff.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal also declared a state of emergency, which was set to begin at noon on Friday.

On Thursday, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency warned North Georgia residents to prepare for the winter storm and urged people to have enough food and other supplies on hand to stay in their homes for three days. Several school districts in metro Atlanta will dismiss students early on Friday.

The Georgia Department of Transportation began working days ahead of the storm to make sure they are ready when wintry weather moves into central and north Georgia, including metro Atlanta, Friday night into Saturday, reports

"In the metro area, we have 10 5,000-gallon tanker trucks to treat the interstate," GDOT Maintenance Engineer Dale Bradley said.

Pre-treating roads with brine is a new tactic for GDOT since Winter Storm Leon crippled the city and left drivers stranded on area roads in January 2014.

"We are trying to pre-treat before the storm, but at the same time close enough to the storm that if it does come in as heavy rain, we don't get a lot of it washed off," Bradley said.

Into the Carolinas, residents began to stock up on food and other supplies with even bigger snow totals in the forecast.

In the West, Helena shut down major roadways and closed schools. This happened in areas that are used to an influx of snow, but it was still too much for some towns to handle.

Parts of California's higher elevations were counting the snow in feet, and there is still more on the way. In multiple states, avalanches were triggered that were large enough to close roads.

Two people have been killed by this storm.


A Montgomery County Sheriff's Deputy told slick roads may have played a role in a deadly crash on U.S. 60 just outside Mt. Sterling Thursday morning.

The car appeared to have slid off the road before striking a tree. A passenger in the vehicle, identified by the Associated Press as 55-year-old Daniel Noble, died after being rushed to the University of Kentucky Hospital.

The Lexington Police reported eight injury collisions, 44 non-injury collisions, 23 motorist assists and 11 traffic hazards since 10 a.m. Thursday morning.

Several weather-related wrecks were also reported on Interstate 75 in Madison County, according to the Kentucky State Police.

North Carolina

Helena forced nearly all inauguration ceremonies for Gov. Roy Cooper and Council of State members to either be canceled or altered, according to the AP. Saturday's parade was postponed by the Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, and the morning swearings-in were moved from the outdoors into an auditorium, the report added.

However, the committee announced Thursday that the auditorium event was canceled, as was a Sunday open house at the Executive Mansion, the AP also said. Friday events surrounding the inauguration will be held as scheduled.


Crews worked feverishly to keep roadways open in the mountainous regions of the state, while in Denver, Helena canceled flights by the dozen. Near Loveland Ski Area, the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 were closed Wednesday afternoon near the Eisenhower Tunnel due to spinouts, the Colorado State Patrol said on Twitter. At Steamboat Springs, high winds forced the closure of the ski lifts, according to the AP.

More than 140 flights into and out of Denver International Airport were canceled Thursday, according to FlightAware. In the city, there was one other notable cancellation: the annual parade of cowboys and cattle through Downtown Denver to start the 111th National Western Stock Show, scheduled for Thursday, was called off because of the storm, the AP also said.


As the storm cranked up Wednesday morning, officials asked residents to avoid unnecessary travel along Interstate 80 on the west side of Cheyenne, the AP reported. By Wednesday evening, a stretch of that interstate's westbound lanes were closed between Cheyenne and Laramie because of a crash, the AP also said.


Dozens of slide-offs, stalls and collisions were reported Wednesday on Idaho roads as Helena's snowfall made travel extremely dangerous, the Idaho Statesman reported. In all, at least a dozen school districts called off classes Wednesday, as well as the University of Idaho at Boise, the Statesman also said.


No injuries were reported when a roof collapsed under the weight of heavy snow at a business in Provo, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. The incident occurred just before 11 a.m. local time Wednesday morning at the Multi-Voice Radio building, the report added.

Authorities warned residents that the heavy snow coming from Helena could pose a major threat to avalanches in the mountains. The Utah Avalanche Center told skiers to be extremely cautious and check conditions before going out, especially in the backcountry, according to the AP.


Crews were responding Thursday afternoon to an avalanche rescue on Mt. Rose, according to a tweet by the Truckee Meadows Fire Department. The avalanche closed State Route 431 near the summit, burying several cars that were in its path. One person may have been trapped, Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Dan Gordon told the AP.

"We've got troopers on the scene now. There's several feet of snow across the roadway," he told the AP Thursday afternoon.

Additionally, two backcountry skiers were uninjured when they got caught in the avalanche, the AP also said.


Zaylee Schlect, 8, was killed when a tree fell into her family's Otis, Oregon, home, according to the AP. The tree was brought down by strong winds that accompanied the winter storm on Tuesday; Schlect was rushed to a hospital but died shortly after, the report added.

Schlect's father, a volunteer firefighter, responded to a call that a girl was trapped in Otis at about 11:15 p.m. Tuesday night, the AP also said. Nearly 20 firefighters worked to free Zaylee, who was hit by the falling tree while she slept in her bed, the report added.

"We had very high winds here last night, and snow on the coast, which is a very rare event," Capt. Jim Kusz of North Lincoln Fire & Rescue said in a statement. Though the girl's sister, two brothers and mother were also in the home at the time of the incident, there were no other injuries.

At Medford's airport, 8 inches of snow fell on Tuesday, making it the city's snowiest day since 11 inches of snow fell on a December day in 1919, according to the AP.

Early Wednesday morning, an avalanche partially blocked a portion of Highway 20 west of Santiam Pass, the report added.


With several feet of snow already on the ground in some of the hardest-hit areas of the higher elevations, Helena caused plenty of travel problems in the Golden State.

Blizzard conditions closed major highways and triggered a small avalanche in the Sierra on Wednesday as wet, windy storms pummeled much of the West.

All major Sierra passes were closed Wednesday night, including a 50-mile section of Interstate 80, which was closed for parts of Wednesday morning west of Truckee due to whiteout conditions brought on by the storm, according to KOLO-TV. The interstate was reopened, but by Wednesday evening, the California Highway Patrol announced via Facebook that the westbound lanes were closed in Truckee, and I-80 East was closed in Colfax. The eastbound portion of I-80 was reopened early Thursday morning, the California Department of Transportation said on its website.

Ski resorts reveled in the heavy snowfall, and atop the Sierras, business was booming. In Soda Springs, a storm total of 56 inches was reported Wednesday morning, and more snow was on the way.