BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Now that we’re past the icy roads, the gridlock and sleeping wherever you could find a warm spot, I thought I would share some reflections of the storm.
It’s a week many of us will never forget. For me, it started late Tuesday morning with a call from my daughter’s middle school. We decided I would go pick up her up as soon as possible in case the weather really caused problems. That was the best decision we would make that day!
When we walked out of her school, my daughter and I both noticed that conditions were worsening quickly. As I drove home, I was already wondering if I would be able to get to work. As soon as I arrived home, CBS 42 called to say what we were all expecting. Everyone needed to come in as soon as possible!
After a quick shower, I jumped in the car equipped with sandwiches, water and a box full of gloves, hats and other winter wear. You see, my wife always makes sure I’m prepared (since I would probably overlook a lot of those necessary items in my rush to leave). Thanks to my wife, I was as prepared as I could be to deal with what was headed our way, a crippling snow storm.
As I slowly crept out of our neighborhood, I saw a sign of things to come. Cars were already lined up on the road that funnels into our neighborhood. Three schools are close to our home and all three schools had released students at the same time. Before you could say logjam, we were all stuck as drivers tried unsuccessfully to navigate a hill leaving the community.
It took two hours for everyone in front of me to make it up the hill. By the time, I reached Highway 150, I had already filed a few reports using my smart phone. Basically, I got bored sitting there and thought, “I should just record myself talking about what I am seeing!” That was also a sign of things to come as CBS 42 aired many phone reports throughout the day.
Once I was finally able to move past our neighborhood quagmire, I pulled into a gas station to fill up. I figured I should top off the gas tank since there’s no telling how long it would take me to drive to work. If I knew how long it was going to take, I might have decided to drive back home.
Instead, I got onto I-459 and headed for Birmingham. Once I saw the image of a backed up I-65, I decided to stay on 459 which was relatively clear at that point. After spending a few hours of frustration on back roads that were just as backed up as the interstate, I turned around.
At that point. I decided to brave I-65 hoping for a slow steady drive into work. Instead of slow and steady, I was greeted with inching along. We moved one mile in five hours! It was again so frustrating since I knew I needed to be at work to help communicate what was going on throughout the area. Fortunately, our news director seized on the idea that I should go live using my phone. Sherri Jackson and Jim Dunaway pitched out to me a number of times so I could tell them that “Yes, I’m still in the same spot. We’ve moved a few feet in the past hour!”
One of the many “I want to pull out my hair moments” was how limited we all were trying to make cell phone calls. Most of my calls wouldn’t get through since so many people were trying to connect and check on loved ones. Instead, I texted everyone – from my family to my co-workers. Fortunately, that did work most of the time.
Once I reached hour ten of the trip, and after talking to station management, I had to make a decision. Do I spend the night in my car or do I leave it on the side of -65 and walk?
It was 1 ½ miles to exit 152, Highway 31. CBS 42’s Chief Engineer Scott Sarkisian was kind enough to brave the elements in an effort to pick me up at the bottom of the exit ramp. I have to admit it was a long, cold walk. Yet, since I knew Scott was waiting for me, I was encouraged by what was going to happen. I have to say, when I saw Scott’s truck, I was one happy camper!
My spirits improved dramatically once I warmed up. My optimism quickly turned into a “white knuckle”mentality as Scott drove us around hundreds of abandoned vehicles on Columbiana Road. As many of you know, Columbia is very steep. Let’s just say, I was saying a silent prayer as we started our descent down Columbiana! Scott joked that “at least there’s a guardrail there”. I laughed as a lump formed in my throat! I have to say, Scott did a bang up job of guiding us down that icy road, avoiding a lot of cars and people.
Amazingly, we arrived at the station right before 10:00. So, I was able to run in and join Gene and then Sherri and Jim for a few reports. This started a whirlwind of live reports that continued throughout Wednesday. One thing I will always remember is how everyone pitched in, worked very long hours, slept very little and reported in very uncomfortable weather conditions.
My other lasting take away will be how so many people went above and beyond to help so many in need. From the teachers who spent the night in schools comforting the students to restaurant owners who fed and gave shelter to weary travelers to the many people who got out of their cars to help drivers who were stuck, I saw the finest of the human nature.
At the end of some very long days, my hope was that everyone was able to get home safely. My other hope is that our efforts helped all of you make the best decisions you could during a very difficult time.
Certainly, we will tell these stories for years to come as we say, “Remember the snow storm of 2014, when two inches of snow turned Central Alabama into a parking lot?” Hopefully, all of us, from families to government leaders were able to learn something from Icemageddon. We’re all hoping, if there is a next time, we will act differently, be more prepared and find ourselves in cars and trucks that are moving slowly, but moving towards work or home.