A large part of the southern USA was hunkering down Wednesday in the face of what the National Weather Service has called "mind-boggling if not historical" snow and ice.

The potentially historic winter storm, called Pax, was threatening to knock out power for hundreds of thousands, and travel conditions may become especially difficult in the Carolinas and Georgia.

From Texas to Georgia and up to the Carolinas, roads were slick with ice and thousands were already without power early Wednesay as a wintry mix fell in many areas.

In Atlanta, Georgia Power was already reporting power outages around the state as emergency management workers waited to spring into action as rain — along with temperatures — fell, potentially leading to "catastrophic" ice conditions that were forecast to hit the region.

Shreveport, La., Mayor Cedric Glover tweeted that "Due to inclement weather the city of Shreveport will be closed Wednesday." In one hour Tuesday afternoon, the small Louisiana city had eight car wrecks, a bus wreck and an overturned garbage truck, Glover explained.

Eli Jacks, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said forecasters use words like "catastrophic" sparingly.

"Sometimes we want to tell them, 'Hey, listen, this warning is different. This is really extremely dangerous and it doesn't happen very often,'" Jacks said.

In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal said the National Guard opened 65 emergency shelters, and seven more were open at state parks along Interstate 20.

Zach Steenberger, 19, and his mother, Vanessa Bray, 48, both of suburban Atlanta, shopped at Home Depot on Tuesday for last-minute storm preparations: a power saw, kerosene and batteries.

"I'm really ready for summer to get here," Bray said.

The storm is at least the third this winter to lash the South. Earlier in January, temperatures dropped to single digits as far south as Atlanta and Birmingham.

After walloping the Southeast with ice and freezing rain, this latest storm is forecast to move up the East Coast later Wednesday and into Thursday, potentially dropping as much as a foot of snow all the way from Virginia to New England.

Heavy snow is forecast just west of the Interstate 95 corridor from Washington to Boston, and continuing up into Maine.

"Airports from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston will experience trouble with this storm," said AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

Contributing: John Bacon; Associated Press

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