ATLANTA -- Forecasters issued an unusually dire winter storm warning Tuesday for much of Georgia, but many residents already were heeding advice to stay home and off the roads, leaving much of metro Atlanta a ghost town during the usually busy morning commute.

The storm could be a catastrophic event reaching historical proportions, the National Weather Service said in its warnings. Rain was falling Tuesday morning in Atlanta, with snow in north Georgia, and schools were canceled.

Basically, everyone from the office is going to be working from home on Tuesday, said Dakota Herrera as he left a car park in downtown Atlanta to go to his office Monday.

Atlanta has a long and painful history of being ill-equipped to deal with snowy weather. Despite officials' promises following a crippling ice storm in 2011 that they would be better prepared next time, the storm that hit the area Jan. 28 proved they still had many kinks to work out.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal indicated Monday that he and other state officials had learned their lesson.

Before a single drop of freezing rain or snow fell, Deal declared a state of emergency for nearly a third of the state and state employees were told they could stay home if they felt conditions were too dangerous. Schools canceled classes, and Deal urged people who didn't need to be anywhere to stay off the roads. Tractor-trailer drivers were handed fliers about the weather and a law requiring chains on tires in certain conditions.

We are certainly ahead of the game this time, and that's important, Deal said. We are trying to be ready, prepared and react as quickly as possible.

That kind of reassurance was a hard sell with some.

I'm not counting on it, said Terri Herod, who bought a large bag of sand and a shovel at local hardware store. I've been in Georgia on and off for 20 years. It's usually the same scenario: not enough preparations and not enough equipment.

CBS Atlanta affiliate WGCL-TV says travel in the city will be dangerous Tuesday morning, all day Wednesday and Thursday morning, and in the mountains north of the city, Travel will be dangerous all day Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning.

As of early Tuesday, some 1,000 flights had been canceled nationwide, according to

Memories of the last storm are still painfully fresh. Students were trapped on buses or at schools and thousands of cars were abandoned along highways as short commutes turned into odysseys. One woman gave birth on a jammed interstate. Officials reported one accident-related death.

This storm could be worse this time. A one-two punch of winter weather was expected for Atlanta and northern Georgia. Rain and snow were forecast Tuesday, followed by sleet and freezing rain Wednesday. Downed power lines and icy roads were a major worry.

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