The cities of Anniston, Oxford, Jacksonville, Piedmont and Weaver closed all roads Wednesday and urged motorists to stay inside until the warmer temperatures could thaw out the streets Thursday afternoon. Calhoun County Engineer Brian Rosenbalm said the Alabama Department of Safety officially closed and barricaded Cottaquilla Road, Whites Gap Road and parts of Choccolocco Road, but said the county wanted residents to stay off all roads in the county if possible.
The original forecast for Tuesday called for a light dusting in the area and caught officials off-guard when heavier-than-expected snow fell through central and east Alabama, causing major traffic jams and insufficient equipment and personnel ready for action.
“This was unexpected for all of us, so we don’t have a lot of rock,” said Piedmont City Clerk Michelle Franklin Wednesday afternoon, referring to the shortage of sand and salt in the county to help melt the thick sheets of ice covering highways and roads. “We’re trying to save what little we have for tomorrow when people will be trying to go to work.”
Rosenbalm said four sand trucks were working to melt ice on the county’s major roads Wednesday morning. Two more crews were out shoveling sand and dirt with emphasis on bridges, steep hills and sharp curves throughout the county.
As for when he expected the roads might be safe again for travel, Rosenbalm said Wednesday he couldn’t offer a time.
“With the temperatures not expected to get past 30 today, I don’t see it happening,” he said. “And it’ll just refreeze tonight. I suspect it’ll be Friday before we see significant improvement.”
Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge was initially more optimistic Wednesday morning about the city's chances for improving conditions, and said he would re-assess the conditions of the main roads in Oxford by the afternoon. The chief later said that roads throughout the city were still too dangerous to drive on.
Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart said Wednesday afternoon he and Public Works Director Bob Dean were touring the city in Dean’s all-terrain truck to check on city roads where street department employees had been working around the clock to clear major arteries near hospitals and public buildings. The mayor said while Quintard Avenue and Noble Street were relatively safe for travel by mid-afternoon, he expected the hard freeze Wednesday night would make them unsafe again. He also advised all residents to stay home Wednesday, and even refrain from walking if possible.
“We’re just telling everyone to stay inside,” Stewart said. “With all the ice, it’s hazardous even just to walk, especially if you’re not used to these conditions.”
Despite the conditions on the main roads, Stewart said an Alabama Department of Transportation sand truck flipped on South Quintard Avenue before noon near Fitness Rush.
In Jacksonville, police Chief Tommy Thompson said Wednesday the city wanted motorists to stay off the road until Thursday if possible.
“The sun today might thaw them out a little, but they'll freeze back up just as quickly," Thompson said. “Tomorrow we should get into the 40s, and things should get cleaned up pretty quick then.”
Weaver Mayor Wayne Willis said all city roads were closed until noon Thursday. The mayor said he planned to go out to major roads with Weaver Councilman Les Hill Wednesday afternoon to attempt to lay down the city's limited amount of salt and sand while the temperature was at its peak for the day, and while roads hopefully remained empty.
“This kind of caught us off guard so we really don't have a lot of sand and salt," Willis said. "But we're going to be fighting the traffic tomorrow, so we want to get this on the roads today."
Ohatchee Mayor Steve Baswell said Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency alerted him Tuesday to close all city roads, even though not enough barricades were available to block streets. The mayor said the only city employees working Wednesday were police officers.
“I actually haven't even left my house," Baswell said Wednesday morning. “I could probably make it to the office if I absolutely need to, but I'm not going to try it just for fun.”
Alabama Department of Transportation spokesman Tony Harris said residents statewide should consider all roads hazardous Wednesday, and should avoid travel if possible. Those who do travel should use extreme caution, Harris said.
“In many parts of Alabama, temperatures will not rise above freezing today, which means all bridges should be considered icy,” he said.
Staff Writer Tim Lockette contributed reporting to this story.
Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.
Staff Writer Tim Lockette contributed reporting from Montgomery.