CULLMAN, Ala. – Cullman County was enveloped in a thick sheet of ice and sleet in the early days of the week, creating the perfect scenery along with ingredients for the perfect storm: slick and treacherous roads. A winter storm brought the wintry mix on Monday night; projections that called for a Southerner’s least favorite s-word, “snow,” fell short and instead, plummeting temperatures and freezing rain encased the area in ice.
Residents coped with the unexpected shut-in in their own ways. Children celebrated their “snow days” by sledding, bundled as tight as can be. Ice and snow aren’t in any way hallmarks of winter in the Bible Belt; some children never have the experience of the enchanting world of an ice storm. Many local children sported rosy cheeks, socks for mittens and big toothy grins.
Schools in the area have been on hiatus since even before the storm blew through and froze everything in place. On Friday, Jan. 12, schools were closed due to the threat of possible tornadoes. On Monday, Jan. 15, schools observed the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and then ice-slicked roads caused closures Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 16-17. (As of print time, Thursday’s fate is unknown.)
Cullman County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette and Cullman City Schools Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff chose to close their respective school systems Tuesday and Wednesday due to the increasingly treacherous road conditions throughout the county that could pose risk to traveling students, faculty and staff.
Barnette filmed a video for social media, showing the conditions around his own home. “We rely heavily on the National Weather Service and the local EMA and I’m thankful they’re good at what they do,” he said into the camera. “As you can see, we don’t want any buses on these roads.”
Warming stations opened up in various areas of the county, from Bethsadia to Hanceville to Garden City. The Link of Cullman County, one of the city’s nonprofits, closed its warming station a few hours into the night on Monday, Jan. 15. Residents who chose to visit the Link were transported to the Hanceville Civic Center for shelter from the frigid temps.
The Link Executive Director Melissa Betts spoke of the reasons for the closure.
“We were only expecting cold temps when we set our structure. Some of the other stations only had a couple of volunteers to stay all night, but we (at The Link) had a large response of helping hands. When the ice and snow started, we were informed by EMA that roads would get bad quickly. Our site didn’t have meals planned or volunteers who could stay all night, the next day, until things cleared up. So, we worked with VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) organizers and set plan B in motion,” Betts said. “We transported them and ensured they were safe and warm. This event was a wonderful opportunity for us to all work together, find our strengths and lean into them. Also, to find our weaknesses and make a plan for our next event.”
On Tuesday night, roads in Cullman County continued to deteriorate as the temperatures remained below freezing; daytime sunshine slightly melted the ice to slush, only for it to re-freeze at night.
Cullman County EMA Director Tim Sartin warned of dangerous roads before they began to cause issues, and continued as the frigid air persisted. He urged residents to stay home throughout the freeze and avoid icy roadways, noting that areas with hills and valleys can be especially difficult to manage. He implored residents to stay safe, be aware of their surroundings and “stay off the roads.”
Only time will tell what the weather has in store for the rest of January. When Sartin addressed the Cullman County Commission on Monday, Jan. 15, he explained that although the temperatures were expected to finally best the freezing point by Thursday afternoon, another storm is expected Friday.
“We’ve got another storm system coming in Friday,” he said. “What they said was they weren’t sure what kind; it could be rain, it could be sleet, it could be snow. It depends on what the weather does, but it’s going to be cold.”
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