Snow, freezing rain and ice blasted the Southeast yesterday, forcing Atlanta's airport to close, while the Midwest and Northeast shivered in a prolonged cold spell that has frozen over four of the five Great Lakes for the first time in recent history.

"It's not as bad as Chicago, but down here we don't have the equipment to handle it," said Roger Myers, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, in announcing that up to four inches of snow had temporarily closed Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport, the world's second busiest.

One runway reopened late yesterday, but dozens of flights were canceled. Airports in both Carolinas and Lovell-Field Airport in Chattanooga, Tenn., were shut down by the snowstorm.

Up North, the four westernmost Great Lakes were frozen over for the first time in modern history, according to the 9th Coast Guard District in Cleveland. Lake Ontario, because of its greater depth and water flow, was about 40 percent ice-covered, the Coast Guard said.

Residents of the frostbitten Midwest and Northeast endured another cold day in an unusually cold month, but National Weather Service spokesmen said "considerably warmer" weather was expected in the Northeast and Midwest by Tuesday or Wednesday. "Considerably warmer" meant above freezing.

A Weather Service spokesman said the long-range forecast for mid-February to mid-March calls generally for below-normal temperatures east of the Mississippi Valley and above-normal readings in the West.

Georgia State Highway Patrol spokesman Mark Lott warned motorists to stay off the roads unless travel was absolutely necessary.

Similar warnings were issued in South Carolina, where freezing rain and sleet covered roads with a solid sheets of ice. Authorities reported two traffic fatalities when cars hit icy spots and overturned.

Strong gusty winds churned up a heavy snowfall in neighboring North Carolina. By midday, as much as a foot of snow had fallen in the state's nothern, mountainous area.