Winter storm surprises region
by Star staff
Jan 28, 2014 | 12341 views |  0 comments | 144 144 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alabama Highway 21 south of Piedmont Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Alabama Highway 21 south of Piedmont Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
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Calhoun and surrounding counties Tuesday were buried in a surprise snowstorm that covered area roads, stranded drivers and school students, and shocked many who had expected only a light dusting.

Snow fell in Anniston from about 9 a.m. through 3:30 p.m. As late as 8 a.m. the forecast had predicted half an inch or less of accumulating snow.

At some local schools, students and staff were waiting out the snowstorm. A plan hatched this morning to dismiss all public and private schools two hours early was quickly abandoned when snow began to pile up. Many schools then tried to send students home immediately, around 11 a.m., only to find that buses couldn’t travel snowy roads littered with stranded cars and slow-moving traffic.

Just after 11 a.m., the National Weather Service Office in Calera issued a winter storm warning for 15 Alabama counties, including Calhoun, Clay, Cleburne, Etowah, Randolph, Talladega and St. Clair. The warning said the greatest threat of ice, sleet and snow accumulation was along and south of Interstate 20, between 2 and 3 inches. The warning is set to last through 6 a.m. Wednesday morning.

There were numerous reports of car accidents on streets around Anniston. A school bus leaving a county spelling bee at the Donoho School became stuck on Henry Road, blocking other traffic. Anniston police announced late in the morning that all city streets were officially closed. Oxford followed suit at 4:30 p.m.

A civil emergency message distributed by the National Weather Service said many roads had become “extremely hazardous and in some cases impassable.” The most dangerous spots, according to the message, are elevated roadways, bridges and overpasses.

Emergency room workers at Regional Medical Center said late this afternoon they have treated a few patients with injuries from accidents related to the snow, but none of the injuries were life-threatening.

Cold weather had been forecast to last in the area through much of the week, with the temperature not expected to rise above the freezing mark until Thursday.

Officials with the Calhoun County Emergency Management agency are stressing that people who don’t have a dire reason to travel should stay inside. State troopers urged motorists to stay off the roadways except in emergencies, and said officers were “inundated.”

Anniston police Capt. Allen George said that once roads are closed, officers responding to accidents will only check for injuries.

George did not have an exact number as to how many accidents had been reported, but said it “multiple,” with a majority occurring on Quintard Avenue.

Sheriff Larry Amerson said deputies had switched from patrol cars to Humvees to assist with accidents.

“It’s extremely hazardous,” the sheriff said of driving conditions.

Amerson said he did not know how many accidents had been reported, but said he wouldn’t be surprised if it were more than one hundred.

“Most of the wrecks are minor that we know about,” he said. “We’re trying to assist people with moving their vehicles from the road and getting them to a place of warmth.”

The sheriff said late Tuesday afternoon that deputies had blocked some sections of Choccolocco Road because of its condition, and also said Mark Green Road west of Jacksonville was not safe.

Both the sheriff and George advised residents against travel on any of the closed roads because insurance companies will not pay for damage to vehicles in accidents on closed roads.

Weaver Mayor Wayne Willis said all roads in the city were closed as officials dealt with a shortage of sand. He said he didn't know how many accidents had occurred as of noon. Most city employees had been sent home and the Weaver City Council meeting scheduled for tonight has been cancelled. Oxford canceled its City Council meeting today, as well.

The Anniston Army Depot said workers for today’s second shift and Wednesday’s first shift need not report to work. An announcement about Wednesday’s second shift should be announced after noon on Wednesday, according to a statement from the depot.

Gadsden State Community College announced it was closing all campuses at 11:30 a.m., and would be closed Wednesday.

Jacksonville State University cancelled all afternoon classes and classes on Wednesday Stephenson Hall on the JSU campus has been designated a temporary shelter and warming center for students and employees, according to a release from the University.

Calhoun County closed all its public offices at 11 a.m. due to worsening road conditions.

The Salvation Army shelter on Noble Street, which has been open since 8 a.m., will waive its usual nightly fee of $10 Tuesday for those who want to wait out the cold, according to Joe Jankoski, chapter executive for the Calhoun Cleburne chapter of the American Red Cross. There will also be warming stations at Greenbrier Baptist Church, which opens at 5 p.m., and the Oxford Civic Center, which opened at 4 p.m.

Star staffers Brian Anderson, Ben Cunningham and Madasyn Czebiniak contributed reporting.
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