By David Beasley
ATLANTA, Feb 10 (Reuters) - The U.S. Southeast braced on Monday for a blast of freezing rain, snow and ice, and government officials took early steps to ensure they were not caught flat-footed in another winter storm.
A cold air mass behind an arctic front was likely to bring a wintry mix for a broad swath of the country stretching from Texas to North Carolina early in the week, the National Weather Service said.
In Georgia, where sleet and snow may begin falling as early as Monday night, Governor Nathan Deal put emergency response agencies on alert and asked residents to make plans to be off the roads by early evening.
"At the moment, local meteorologists are advising us to expect a 'major storm' that could bring significant levels of snow and ice," Deal said. "We have passed along this latest weather information to school superintendents and local emergency management agencies."
Georgia officials faced an avalanche of criticism last month when Atlanta highways became gridlocked with hundreds of thousands of commuters after about 2 inches (5 cm) of snow fell around the city.
Deal, a Republican up for re-election this year, admitted the state's response fell short and vowed to take steps to be better prepared for future storms.
The governor said he had put the state's National Guard on notice on Sunday that they could be called up to help, and he directed transportation officials to have equipment in place in areas where the snow and ice are expected.
The weather service said northeast Georgia and the western Carolinas would experience the heaviest precipitation on Wednesday, with snow accumulations of 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) in the mountains.
The largest ice accumulations were expected along the Interstate-20 corridor from Augusta, Georgia, to Columbia and Florence in South Carolina.
State transportation officials in North Carolina began salting roadways in the Charlotte region on Sunday in anticipation of the storm. (Reporting by David Beasley; Additional reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Von Ahn)