ATLANTA — Temperatures plunged to 6 degrees above zero in Atlanta and 6 degrees below zero in the north Georgia mountains as the coldest air in years settled over the state.
Several metro Atlanta school systems closed Tuesday. In downtown, Centennial Olympic Park officials said the cold led them to close the ice skating rink Monday evening.
“First time I’ve seen it this cold since the late ’70s or early ’80s,” said Sean Addams, 53, as he waited for a bus in Atlanta. “This is very, very rare for us, you know. Too cold.”
In Columbus, a man described as homeless was found outside in a vacant lot shortly before 6 a.m. Tuesday, Muscogee County Coroner Eddie Bryan said. Paul Garner, whose frozen body was discovered by another homeless person, succumbed to hypothermia brought on by the extreme cold, Bryan said.
Garner, 51, was dressed in blue jeans and a pull-over sweatshirt, and a stocking cap was found about 15 feet away, Bryan said. There were two blankets at the scene, but one was beside Garner and the other one was wrapped around his legs, Bryan said.
Statewide, one of the coldest temperatures in Georgia was minus 6, recorded shortly after 5 a.m. Tuesday at the U.S. Forest Service’s remote automated weather station near Brasstown Bald, the state’s highest peak.
The National Weather Service reported lows of 6 degrees in Cartersville, Chamblee, Gainesville and Marietta at about 5 a.m.
The weather service reported the temperature also dropped to 6 degrees at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport at about 6:52 a.m. Tuesday. That broke Atlanta’s 10-degree record low for the date, which was set in 1970, said Mike Leary, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s metro Atlanta office in Peachtree City.
“This is severely cold for these parts,” said Brian Lynn, a Weather Service meteorologist in Peachtree City. “Single digits are a rare event.”
Even parts of southern Georgia often immune to winter weather were expecting bone-chilling temperatures. Savannah hit a low of 20 degrees Tuesday morning; Albany reached 17 degrees.
Much of north Georgia was under a wind chill warning early Tuesday, meaning wind gusts could make temperatures feel as low as 15 degrees below zero or colder. Those conditions would mostly be felt only in the mountains, Lynn said.
A wind chill advisory, which could make temperatures feel up to 10 degrees below zero, was in effect as far south as Americus and the Savannah area.
In metro Atlanta, commuter trains early Tuesday were running at slower speeds than normal due to the extreme cold, leading to delays of about 30 minutes on some lines.
The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority can typically reach speeds around 70 mph but in some areas Tuesday morning “we’re not even going any faster than 25 mph,” MARTA spokesman Lyle Harris said.
Extreme cold can affect the way trains run over the tracks, so the trains were running more slowly “out of an abundance of caution,” Harris said. The plan was to gradually resume normal speeds once the temperature climbed above 10 degrees, he said.
At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, spokesman Reese McCranie said he understood there were about 17 flight delays Monday evening due to frozen or very cold equipment. However, “our own operations have not been impacted,” he said of the airport itself.