A thin layer of snow and ice across the South closed highways, schools and government offices and sent cars sliding off the road Wednesday, while a blast of cold air broke records as far south as the Gulf Coast. Icicles hung from a statue of jazz musicians in normally balmy New Orleans, and drivers unaccustomed to ice spun their wheels across Atlanta, which was brought to a near-standstill. The beach in Biloxi, Mississippi, got a thin coating of snow.

The snowfall sabotaged the morning rush hour before it even began, sending cars crashing into each other in a swath of the U.S. with precious few snowplows. Officials urged people to stay off the roads if possible and to bundle up if they ventured outside. By midday, skies were bright and sunny, but temperatures were expected to remain below freezing throughout the day in much of the region, and roads were likely to remain icy into Thursday in some places. READ MORE