Area turns into winter wonderland
by Staff reports
Schools were closed and local officials were on alert as 1-4 inches of snow was predicted by the National Weather Service Thursday.

“I think in the morning (Friday) is going to be the worst of the event,” St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency director Ellen Tanner said.

Tanner said a mid-day update from the National Weather Service indicated that St. Clair County could see 2-4 inches of snow.

She said temperatures were expected to hover above freezing until late Thursday.

“We’re cutting it really close,” Tanner said. “The National Weather Service is predicting temperatures at 33 degrees (when the snow moves across St. Clair County). We don’t expect it to be a dangerous situation.”

Tanner said winds could also help dry roads, but she expects patches of ice along roadways and bridges on Friday morning.

In Talladega County, EMA director Debra Gaither said most of the groundwork had been done Wednesday. “We readjusted everyone’s schedules to make sure we’ve got someone here throughout the night. We’ve been posting updates on Twitter and Facebook, we’ve contacted all of our first responders via 800 megahertz radio, and we’ve got information from the National Weather Service in Birmingham via 800 megahertz. The main thing is for people to stay off the roads after dark as much as possible, and to check before they leave in the morning.”

All area schools closed early Thursday.

The Talladega County Board of Education said any information regarding the status of school operations today may not be determined until as late as 4 or 5 a.m. Friday.

Sylacauga city schools administrative assistant Terri Bentley said the system would make the decision about whether to delay or cancel school today by late Thursday night or early Friday morning. If there is any delay, students and parents will be notified via the SchoolCast system, and the information should also be posted online at www.sylacauag.k12.al.us.

Pell City Schools Superintendent Dr. Bobby Hathcock said Thursday that it was still too early to determine if officials will delay the opening of schools this morning.

“We could look at a delay of a couple of hours,” Hathcock said, adding that school officials will have to look at the big picture Friday morning. “It may be fine here in town, but it could be bad on the bus routes. We have to look at the bus situation.”

As of Thursday afternoon, no decision had been made about Talladega city school openings today. Parents will be notified of any delays early this morning.

Temperatures were expected to dip below freezing early this morning, at about 28 degrees.

“We have one sand truck loaded and an operator who is on standby 24 hours,” said Greg Gossett, street superintendent for Pell City.

He said the Street Department’s main priority is to make sure St. Vincent’s St. Clair Hospital is accessible for medical emergencies.

Gossett said the Street Department will concentrate its efforts along the major thoroughfares, like U.S. 231 and U.S. 78, and then span out to the secondary roads.

“We have as many workers as needed, up to 17, which includes me,” Gossett said.

He said the city also has four-wheel drive vehicles.

“We have the capability to transport people in case of emergency,” he said. “We will work close with the Fire and Police departments.”

Childersburg Police Chief Shane Burnette said Thursday that all streets were open but there was some concern about bridges, especially the new bridge on Alabama 235. Road conditions will be monitored through the night and area residents should call 256-378-7860 for information.

Local grocery stores saw an increase in business in anticipation of the snow.

“We ran out of bread yesterday,” said Tina Ailor, the store manager for Food Outlet in Pell City.

She said the bread was restocked at the store early Thursday morning.

“We will probably end up running out again,” Ailor said. “There’s one lady with five loaves of bread in her hands.”

She said the store has a good stock of milk, but people were stocking up with food just in case they are forced to stay home.

“We have been selling a lot of hamburger and stew meat,” Ailor said.

Pell City Police Chief Greg Turley said it is important for people to be extra careful when driving.

“We encourage people to get their milk and bread and stay at the house until things change,” he said. “Like always, we tell people to avoid all unnecessary travel.”

Pell City City Hall closed at 2 p.m. Thursday but is expected to open again at 10 a.m. today.

Turley said police officers are on the lookout for icy road conditions and could temporarily close certain roads to travel.

“We do have all-terrain vehicles if things get really bad,” he said. “We will continue to respond to emergency calls.

He said the city has about six all-terrain vehicles and city police and fire personnel are on duty, and the new police cars have front-wheel drive, which make them more suitable for travel in this type weather.

“All I can say is enjoy the weather but be safe,” Turley said.

Talladega County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Jimmy Kilgore was in the process Thursday of rounding up every available four-wheel drive vehicle, and making sure they were all fueled up. “We’ll be available to help transport anyone who needs us,” he said.

Talladega city manager Brian Muenger said he was still evaluating the situation, and would meet again with the department heads before everyone went home.

“Public Works has already been out and cleaned up some roadside ponding, since our primary concern is ice in the morning. It’s supposed to be up to 40 degrees by 10 a.m. Friday, so everything will depend on how long the snow lasts.”

The Public Works Department will be kept on standby through the night, spreader trucks and sand, he added. “The police will be monitoring any problem areas, and we’ll make sure the hospital hill area stays clear. We may open city offices a little later in the morning if we need to.”

Talladega County Road Department Director Tim Markert said his crews normally go home at 3 p.m., but 10 people stayed on. “They’re out riding the roads,” he said. “We’ve got the sand trucks and spreaders all gassed up and ready to go, we’ve got the chainsaws ready. The guys that stayed on will be out until 7 p.m., and then we’ll have another crew on after that.”

Home staff writers David Atchison, Chris Norwood, Emily Adams and Mark Ledbetter contributed to this report.

© 2013