Preparing for the worst
by By Daily Home staff
Feb 10, 2014 | 1728 views |  0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bob Crisp/The Daily Home
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Sylacauga Police officer Charlton Kircus checks air pressure in the tires on one of the department’s two Humvees in preparation for the possibility of wintry weather today and Wednesday. Air pressure must be lowered when driving on icy roads. The all-terrain Humvees proved extremely useful in rescuing stranded motorists during the Jan. 28 snowstorm.
Bob Crisp/The Daily Home

Sylacauga Police officer Charlton Kircus checks air pressure in the tires on one of the department’s two Humvees in preparation for the possibility of wintry weather today and Wednesday. Air pressure must be lowered when driving on icy roads. The all-terrain Humvees proved extremely useful in rescuing stranded motorists during the Jan. 28 snowstorm.
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Preparations are underway for a winter storm and ice event.

“The National Weather Service in Birmingham has issued a Winter Storm Warning through midnight Wednesday,” said Patrice Kurzejeski, assistant director for the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency.

Kurzejeski said a Winter Storm Warning means significant amounts of snow, sleet and ice are expected or occurring. This will make travel very hazardous or impossible.

“Our area is expecting less than one inch of snow through Tuesday,” she said. “We are expecting two-tenths of an inch of ice Tuesday. Tuesday night into Wednesday, we expect two-tenths of an inch of ice, with snow accumulations of 1-3 additional inches Tuesday night through Wednesday night.”

Kurzejeski said the National Weather Service has a five out of five confidence in this weather prediction.

“The best advice for driving in bad winter weather is not to drive at all, if you can avoid it,” she said.

Kurzejeski said it is best to wait until sanding trucks have had a chance to do their work.

“Allow yourself extra time to reach your destination,” she said. “If you must drive in snowy conditions, make sure your car is prepared and that you know how to handle road conditions.”

Kurzejeski said both St. Clair County Courthouses will remain open as warming stations until further notice.

St. Clair County engineer Dan Dahlke said the county has trucks loaded and ready to go with a sand/fine gravel mix.

“We don’t have any pretreatment like the state does,” he said. “But we are ready as soon as it starts hitting.”

Dahlke said the last winter weather event was a county-wide event.

“We are equipped for isolated ice events, not county-wide events,” he said. “People need to be aware that during a county-wide event, it takes longer for us to respond than during an isolated event.”

He said during winter weather events, he recommends staying off the roads if at all possible.

“If you have to travel, go extremely slow,” he said. “You don’t want to stop going up a hill unless absolutely necessary. Sometimes, having one wheel off on the shoulder (if possible) can give better traction.”

Dahlke said do not follow other vehicles closely, even on flat areas.

“Extend your following distance greatly, and even more for hills,” he said. “If you are on ice, use your brakes as little as possible. Stay at a slow speed so you don’t need your brakes as much.”

Pell City city manager Patrick Draper said city trucks are filled with sand and ready to go.

“We are hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst,” he said.

Draper said the city is trying to get a generator and set up a temporary shelter at the Pell City Civic Center in case there is a loss of power.

“With an ice event, there is a greater chance of power outages,” he said. “We are making sure emergency inclement weather services are ready.”

Draper said a decision whether non-essential city services would close has not yet been made.

“We plan to determine that late Monday night or early Tuesday,” he said.

Pell City Police Chief Greg Turley said the department took lessons from the last winter weather event.

“We are looking at placing all city communications on one frequency,” he said. “We also established a Twitter account (@PellCityPD) and have information available on our Facebook page so residents can keep current.”

Turley said they plan to coordinate logistics and utilize the department’s specialized vehicles to get vital employees to and from work positions.

“This is not just city employees, but hospital and pharmacy employees as well,” he said. “We are trying to keep a pharmacy open during the weather event.”

Turley said it is important to take care of needs such as medication, food, water, heat and more before the winter weather hits.

“Common sense goes a long way,” he said. “People try to saturate critical phone lines with non-emergency calls, such as asking how a particular road looks. Instead of calling dispatch, we recommend looking on TV, Twitter, Facebook and listening to the local radio so that the emergency lines can be used for emergency purposes. If you know a road close to the one you are asking about is covered in snow and ice, then your road probably is too.”

Turley said the department tries to prioritize roads to get the most needed ones open first, such as the road to the hospital and hilly roads.

“We will sand roads in a sensible order to promote community safety,” he said.

Riverside City Clerk Rhonda Johnston said the Riverside Storm Shelter is always open and available for those who need it.

Johnston said Monday the Riverside City Council meeting set for 6 p.m. has not been cancelled, however that could change depending on weather conditions.

Riverside Utilities Superintendent Jeff Bullard said Riverside also has sand/gravel mix loaded up and ready to go.

“We have a wrecker on standby to help pull large vehicles out of ditches, etc.,” he said. “We have Humvees as well, to help transport stranded motorists. And we have a backhoe to scrape roads as necessary.”

Lincoln Mayor Bud Kitchin said the city is prepared for the winter weather event, with sanding equipment ready to go if needed.

“As of Monday afternoon, we have not cancelled the 5 p.m. council meeting (today),” he said. “Should there be a significant change in the weather, we will evaluate and take appropriate action if needed. We recommend our residents check the city’s Facebook pages (Lincoln Police Department, Lincoln Fire Rescue Department, Lincoln Parks and Recreation) for updates or the Talladega County Emergency Management Agency.”

Dr. Michael Barber, superintendent of Pell City schools, said the Pell City School System cancelled school today, and will monitor weather conditions to see if further closures are warranted.

Barber said the St. Clair County School System has also cancelled school today.

“We want to ensure the safety of our students,” he said.

Public agencies in Talladega County said they were taking a "wait and see" approach Monday afternoon. The Talladega City Board of Education and County Commission meetings scheduled for Monday night went forward as planned.

Talladega County Emergency Management Agency public information officer Dexter White said. "We are speaking with the shelters and monitoring the situation, just to see where we are. We're getting prepared, making sure all our vehicles are ready to go and notifying the municipalities of any possible accidents. We're ramping up."

Talladega city manager Brian Muenger was also monitoring the situation and keeping in touch with EMA throughout Monday afternoon.

"We'll probably take another look around close of business on Monday before deciding about a delayed start. But we have had moderate temperatures lately, so the ground temperature will be higher. Still, we will be prepared for any accumulation or ice we may get. But we're going to wait to until we're a little closer to actual, when we will be better able to judge."

Shelters will be open in the event of extensive power outages, but probably not otherwise. Information on closings and shelters will be available via the city's web site and Twitter feed.

County administrator Wayne Hall said he would also be monitoring the situation. "We'll make a decision based on the best information," he said. "If we need to release our employees, I'll talk to the commission chairman and we'll do what we need to do to keep everyone safe."

Neither the city nor the county schools had made any final decision about Tuesday, would post the information online once the decisions were made.

Sylacauga city schools had not made a decision whether to cancel or delay school as of Monday afternoon. If a scheduling change is made, parents, students and staff will be notified via a SchoolCast phone message.

Sylacauga Mayor Doug Murphree said the city was preparing Monday for the possibility of icy weather.

“(Street Department superintendent Tommy Woolley) got the sand trucks loaded, and the police are getting our Humvees gassed up and ready to go in case we need to get out on the icy roads,” Murphree said. “Basically, we’re doing the same things we did last time to prepare.”

Murphree said warming shelter organizers are also standing by in case it becomes necessary to open a shelter again. During the Jan. 28 snow event, more than 70 people stayed at the city’s shelter at First Baptist Church.

Home staff writers Elsie Hodnett, Chris Norwood and Emily McLain contributed to this report.