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Winter's double-whammy in Dawson

On the heels of one of the worst ice storms in recent memory, Dawson County Monday night was blanketed with up to three inches of snow in some areas, which closed schools and left roads slushy and dangerous.

"Due to deteriorating road conditions in higher elevations, Dawson County schools will be closed on Tuesday, Feb. 24," Dawson County School Superintendent Damon Gibbs wrote in a group email at 5 a.m. Tuesday.

The National Weather Service showed Dawson County under a winter storm advisory starting at midnight Monday through 1 p.m. Tuesday.

And that isn't the end.

A third weather system is tracking for today through Thursday morning and has warranted the issuance of a winter storm watch, according to the National Weather Service and Dawson County EMS Chief Lanier Swafford. The potential exists for up to two inches of snow. Authorities warn to be alert for slick spots on roads, bridges and overpasses.

Last Monday, Feb. 16, Dawson was pummeled with an ice storm that left more than 11,000 residents and businesses without power for up to six days and forced 911 dispatchers to use back up radios and printed street maps.

Combined reports from Amicalola EMC, Sawnee EMCs and Georgia Power showed a total of 11,565 customers in Dawson without power.

During the twelve hour period from 6 p.m. Monday to 6:00 a.m. Tuesday, Dawson County dispatch center took 789 calls of which over 53 percent were weather related.

"That is a staggering amount for three communications officers in a 12-hour period," Dawson County Emergency Services Chief Lanier Swafford said.

Calls included downed trees on residences, individuals trapped in vehicles by tree limbs, chimney fires, brush fires, blown transformers, two structure fires, and five medical calls, local officials said.

"Many of these calls could not be responded to due to blocked roadways. Hazards from fires away from structures and vehicles were minimal due to the rainfall occurring during the storm," Swafford said.

Power outages didn't spare local government facilities. Dawson County's Detention Center, the City of Dawsonville, and all county government offices were without power Tuesday. Businesses on Ga. 400 were closed or working in the dark.

Dawson County Sheriff's Deputy Maj. Jeff Johnson explained that inmates under the care and supervision of the sheriff's department had no interruption in food, water or heat.

"We are fortunate to have back-up systems in place to ensure that our facility continues to operate smoothly," Johnson said. "In the event of major power outages, we have the capability to operate for an extended period of time before we must consider other alternatives."

When the county's 911 communication system's computer automated dispatch (CAD) system went down because of power outages, Dawson County Sheriff's Deputy Maj. Greg Rowan, 911 staff, and Chief Swafford, "operated on a backup radio system and relied upon printed maps (verses those found within the CAD) and local knowledge to receive, disseminate, and mitigate both the emergency and non-emergency calls received in the center Monday night/Tuesday morning," Swafford said.

"Thankfully there were very few accidents," Rowan said. Most of them involved trees. There was such a volume of trees down that in order to get into some of these medical calls, the ambulance guys had a chain saw and they would chain saw their way in," Rowan said.

Dawson County 911 Communications Supervisor Kris White said people heeded early warnings.

"Everybody stayed off the roads this time around," she said.

Two patrol cars, including one K9 unit, sustained damage from falling trees. There were no injuries to officers or animals.

Power restoration is typically determined by protocol with public service facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes, detention centers and schools having the highest priority. Substations serving the most people are next and those areas that are less populated and more remote are served last, according to power company officials.

The three power companies continued working to restore power for six days. As of 3 pm Friday, Feb.20, Amicalola EMC reported 207 customers were still out. Sawnee EMC reported .1 percent remained without power and Georgia Power reported that all of its customers were back in service, according to company websites.

Residents of the Eagle Ridge subdivision, in the far northwest corner of the county, did not have power restored until Saturday, six days after the storm hit.

"I think Amicalola EMC was very unprepared for something like this," Eagle Ridge resident Wayne Watkins said. "Normally they're great, but when this hit, it didn't seem like a nobody was in charge.

Residents on Fausetts Lake Road also in the northwestern corner were without power for five days.

Editor/Publisher Kimberly Boim contributed to this report.