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Southerners brace for what could be record-breaking snowfall

Northern Alabama could see as much as 10 inches of snow Wednesday night into Thursday, far more than enough to break records. School has been canceled and many businesses took Wednesday off as a precaution.

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Snow blanketed north Alabama on Wednesday with forecasters warning the winter storm could dump as much as 10 inches of frozen precipitation in spots and make travel treacherous across a wide area through Thursday.

Streets and roads quickly turned white and slushy north of Birmingham, where the National Weather Service said trained spotters reported more than 6 inches had fallen as precipitation continued. Many school systems canceled classes for Thursday as flakes kept falling after dark.

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The weather service said as much as 10 inches of snow could fall before precipitation tapers off. That would be far more than enough to break records dating to the late 1890s, forecasters said.

Less snow fell to the south and north of a band extending roughly from Hamilton to Gadsden, but the threat still created problems elsewhere.

Some parking lots were almost empty in downtown Birmingham because many businesses took the day off as a precaution. Shoppers worried about being stranded at home picked a milk rack nearly clean at a grocery store in suburban Helena, but barely a trace of frozen precipitation fell during daylight hours.

About 55 miles northeast of Birmingham in Etowah County, Josie Hicks fretted about the safety of her 3-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son as the frozen precipitation began.

Hicks said the pipes already were frozen at the family's apartment in Attalla, and she was worried the power could go out if snow or ice got thick. So with sleet already bouncing off car hoods outside, Hicks made a quick trip to Walmart for milk, bread and other food that didn't have to be cooked, and 1-gallon jugs of water.

"I wouldn't mind having some snow for the babies to play in but I don't want them to be freezing," said Hicks. "I'm worried about my babies being warm."

Joseph Cox filled up his four-wheel drive sport-utility vehicle with fuel before attempting the drive home from Etowah County to Centre through heavy snow. Snow wouldn't be a problem, he said, but ice could be.

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"A 30-minute drive could turn into a long walk," Cox said.

Nearby, utility trucks used a hotel parking lot as a staging area in case crews were needed to restore electrical service. No major outages were reported.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for the northern half of the state along a line stretching from roughly Interstate 20 northward. Many schools and government offices shut down, and churches canceled evening services.

Gov. Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency and directed National Guard members to be prepared.

Tony Harris, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Transportation, said workers were treating roadways with a solution to keep them from freezing as quickly. More than 60 snowplows are staged across north Alabama, but that might not be enough.

"The public should expect conditions to be hazardous in areas with accumulating snowfall on roadways," Harris said.

In Gadsden, a judge delayed jury selection in the capital murder trial of a woman accused of making her 9-year-old granddaughter run as punishment until she collapsed and died. Officials said the courthouse wouldn't reopen before Friday at the earliest.

Overnight temperatures were predicted to dip into the 20s across the region, meaning any precipitation could freeze on roadways and cause travel problems early Thursday. Daytime highs were predicted in the upper 30s and low 40s.