A blast of freezing precipitation expected to arrive Tuesday could scatter snow and ice across the Deep South, prompting officials from New Orleans to North Carolina to ready road crews and close some schools.

Popular warm-weather tourist destinations including Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga., Pensacola, Fla., and New Orleans were expecting ice and even snow — both rare occurrences in places that seldom even see prolonged sub-freezing temperatures.

In coastal Charleston, for instance, it was a balmy 62 degrees (17 C) on Monday. But the approaching weather led the College of Charleston to cancel classes Tuesday as a “precautionary measure.” There was a forecast of rain, and sleet in the late afternoon, with the first snow expected Wednesday morning.

Much of Georgia was placed under a winter storm watch for Tuesday and Wednesday. While some areas could see as much as eight centimetres of snow, the bigger concern with plummeting temperatures was ice.

“The snowfall amounts are going to matter very little in this situation because of the ice potential,” said Jason Deese, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, Ga. “Some parts of the state may end up seeing the greatest impact just because they get more ice than snow.”

Delta Air Lines officials say more than 1,800 flights have been cancelled ahead of a winter storm expected to pelt areas of the Southeast with sleet and snow. Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton says 1,850 flights have been cancelled system-wide Tuesday beginning at 11 a.m. Of that number, Talton says 840 flights from Atlanta have been affected.

The airline is offering travellers the opportunity to make one-time changes to their tickets without a fee if they’re travelling through Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, the Carolinas and Texas. Delta officials expected service to be affected between Jan. 28 and 29, and replacement tickets must be reissued by Feb. 1.

Forecasters were predicting snow and ice from Texas to the Carolinas by mid-week as precipitation moving in from the south met with cold air already chilling the region.

In the Carolinas, many school districts were running on half-day schedules Tuesday so students could head home before the worst of the storm system hit. In North Carolina’s Outer Banks, barrier islands that are popular with tourists during the warm seasons, residents were bracing for as much as 20 centimetres of snow.

Heavy snow was also expected in South Carolina, where the state department of transportation planned to send crews out Tuesday to treat roads with sand and brine to ease any troubles caused by ice.

Elsewhere, some schools and government offices already closed in Mississippi ahead of the rare snow event.

“This is a very dangerous situation because snow and ice are very rare for extreme southern Mississippi,” Robert Latham, executive director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said in a news release. “We need everyone to have an emergency plan together for this.”

In Louisiana, state Public Service Commission Chairman Eric Skrmetta told residents to be prepared by stocking up with food, fuelling cars and making sure to have cash on hand, calling the icy forecast for the next couple of days “decidedly grim.”