Updated Friday, January 18, 2013 at 07:02 AM
ATLANTA — A winter storm made its way across the Southeast on Thursday, dumping snow in states recovering from days of rain, playing a role in at least one death, and leaving thousands without power.
Weather warnings and advisories were in effect for sections of Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Parts of Mississippi saw 2 to 4 inches of snow. In Lowndes County, Highway Patrol spokesman Cpl. Criss Turnipseed said Johnnie Matthews, 64, of West Point, died when his car collided with a downed tree at 5 a.m. on Mississippi Highway 50.
Turnipseed says the pine tree in the roadway appeared to have been uprooted by wind and ground saturation from excessive rainfall. The winter blitz follows days of heavy rain across much of the Southeast.
No other deaths were reported.
In Roanoke, Va., heavy snow was falling as residents prepared for the first significant storm of the season. Thousands of customers in the southwestern part of the state were without power. Appalachian Power said the heavy, wet snow contributed to outages to at least 45,000 customers.
The National Weather Service said a foot of snow was possible in the highest elevations of southeastern Virginia.
In Bland County, Virginia, heavy snow, downed trees, disabled vehicles and numerous crashes partially closed Interstate 77, said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller. Traffic was moving slowly late Thursday, and Geller said officials would work through the night to reopen all lanes.
In Alabama, northern and central parts of the state were blanketed with as much as 4 inches of snow, forcing businesses and schools to close early and snarling traffic on Interstate 65, where some motorists were stuck for seven or more hours after a series of crashes caused a miles-long traffic jam.
Traffic crawled across a slickened Tennessee River bridge over a waterway swollen out of its banks. Some areas of the state had received up to 6 inches of rain since Sunday, prompting flood warnings and watches across a wide area.
The moisture may be welcomed by Southeast farmers, notably in those states hardest hit by the nation’s worst drought in decades.
An update Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor showed that about 59 percent of the continental U.S. remains gripped by some form of drought. More than 91 percent of Georgia is in drought, as is about a third of Mississippi.
Climatologists and hydrologists have called winter precipitation — and lots of it — crucial in breaking the grip of drought and restoring moisture to soil and pastureland.