Rare events are, by nature, rare and even harder to forecast. Last Monday night, I saw the signs of the approaching snow – cold air swooping in from the north while moisture crept in from the Gulf. Trusted computer models showed the heaviest of this rare southern snow would blanket much of the state south of Birmingham. I went home confident that at most, we’d see some flurries the next day. “Ha!” said Nature. Yes, even with all the sophistication touted by modern science, we’re not always correct.
Overnight, the stream of moisture destined to paralyze the Magic City and our neighbors east drifted an almost imperceptible 50 miles or so north of the initial projection. As I awoke Tuesday and began looking at data, I saw that indeed, radar showed snow over Central Alabama, however, by 8 a.m. none of the observation sites reporting anything.
It was bitter cold, with temperatures in the 20s and I noted how dry the air was. I thought the majority of snow would evaporate on the way to the ground. Then around 8:30 a.m., I saw tweets and e-mails from coworkers seeing flurries. I thought it would make for pretty pictures, but when I looked out my window at 9 a.m., I saw flakes furiously flying around. That’s when I knew things were changing and I got moving.
As I drove out of my subdivision, the street was dry and the majority of the snow was gathering on grassy areas. But as I climbed the hill leading out of the neighborhood, the street was already all-white. I tried to conjure the driving skills of my East Coast upbringing and remembered – slow down, no sudden moves. Traffic in front of me had stopped and I noticed cars behind me slipping and sliding; two collided. In short order, I too found myself sliding, so I decided to park and see what was going on down the hill. It quickly become obvious that I would not be driving to work – the bottom of the hill was a snarled mess of conjoined cars and distressed drivers.
I reached out to a few other coworkers to let them know that it was starting to get bad and to see if they had a plan B. Thankfully, one did and eventually, we met up out on the street and made our way to work maneuvering in a four-wheel drive truck. I whipped out my tablet, frantically trying to find an alternate way around the standstill playing out on Hwy 31 and I-65. Trouble is, I couldn’t find a way around Shades Mountain. I could only find a route over it and all those roads were impassable. I identified a side road paralleling Columbiana and slowly, we began a steady, steep climb over virginal snow where there didn’t seem to be a soul. My first thought was, “what if we get stuck – who would know?” However, my coworker’s steely resolve seemed to guide the truck over and above the mechanics of the four-wheel drive.
We passed by recently-dismissed students, ambling home; a man with skis and a sled ready to mime the upcoming Olympic games and another man in a suit fumbling with an umbrella, losing the battle against falling snow and wind. As we neared Green Springs, we saw the apocalyptic sight of abandoned cars whose drivers gave up the futile attempt to climb Shades.
Roughly three hours after we started, we arrived atop Red Mountain, no small feat as the entrance to the hill leading up to the station was blocked by more abandoned cars. We were both thankful to arrive when so many others didn’t and steeled ourselves for the many hours ahead.