Official says county roads could remain dangerous through Tuesday

Jan. 19—Even with traffic moving along Cullman County's most heavily traveled routes Friday, conditions were still treacherous along smaller rural roadways where Thursday's round of rainfall and warmer temperatures couldn't slough off a persisting layer of ice.

"In terms of traffic flow, it was definitely kind of touch and go those first couple of days," said Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs. "We even had citizens out using their private vehicles to help pull 18-wheelers through town — it got pretty sketchy early on. But once everything was on the ground, most people were pretty good about limiting their travel. Thankfully, we really haven't had the kind of ongoing issues that the county is dealing with — and I sympathize with them — where some of these roads are still just impassable."

Though motorists in the city of Cullman finally managed to go mobile on Thursday after spending most of the week pinned down by street icing that affected the area more profoundly than neighboring north Alabama counties, it was a different story on many of the county's tree-shaded and hilly back roads.

County commission chairman Jeff Clemons said Friday that crews with the county road department were making slow headway in laying down layers of sand along rural roads that remained under an icy cover, though the persisting ice continued to thwart their progress in areas where the terrain is steep.

"We had a really close call this morning sanding a road out at Crane Hill, where the driver made it halfway up the hill before his truck started sliding and went probably 500 or 600 yards back down the hill and into a ravine," he said, noting that the county employee was "shaken up," but uninjured, in the mishap.

"In places like that, it's still impossible for our crews to get in and out of those areas. Some of these places that never really saw any sunlight on Thursday are still just sitting under a solid sheet of black ice. We expect it to be extremely dangerous conditions for driving on many of our county roads through Monday or even Tuesday in some of these places, so please avoid traveling on county roads this weekend unless it's a necessity for work or something similar."

There's no more winter precipitation forecast through this weekend, though temperatures are expected once again to plunge deep into the low teens and single digits this evening before gradually climbing above freezing on Sunday. A warming trend will set in beginning Monday with temperatures reaching the high 40s, followed by late-week rainfall accompanied by daytime highs in the low to mid-60s by Thursday.

The Cullman County Courthouse and all the services it houses spent the entire week closed to both the public and to most employees, with Clemons signaling that normal operating hours would resume on Monday, Jan. 22. Normal county trash routes also will resume on Monday, though the county sanitation department will place dumpsters at strategic locations in communities throughout this weekend to help relieve customers whose routes were missed over the past several days. Those locations include:

* Hanceville City Hall

* Behind Phelen Dollar General

* Berlin Ball Field

* Empty lot in front of S&S Food in Holly Pond

The above containers will be picked up Wednesday, Jan. 24.

* Jones Chapel Dollar Tree

* West Point Maintenance Building

* Battleground Fire Department #2

* Vinemont Providence Fire Department #2

The above containers will be picked up Thursday, Jan. 25.

* Eastside Road Department

* New Canaan Community Center

* Joppa Hanger

* Fairview Park

* Vinemont Providence Fire Department #2

* Empty lot in front of S&S Food in Holly Pond

The above containers will be picked up Friday, Jan. 26.

The timing of this week's courthouse closure didn't affect actual court proceedings. Circuit Clerk Lisa McSwain said no court operations were scheduled all week as judges and district attorney personnel were away from the workplace to attend separate professional conferences in Montgomery.

"It really came at a good time for the courts, because of the judges' and DAs' conference taking place this week," she said. "We had no court scheduled for this week, so everything should pick up right where it left off anyway when court resumes normally on Monday."

After an early spate of outages as the icy weather descended on the area on Tuesday, the Cullman Electric Cooperative encountered no additional weather-related interruptions through the remainder of the week. Those early outages, said co-op communications manager Brian Lacy, resulted from an initial wave of customer demand, "but other than that, we have fared exceptionally well.

"Our primary concern, from a supply standpoint, was TVA and whether they would have any problems meeting the power demand,: he added. "I'm sure everyone remembers, a little over a year ago, that there were rolling blackouts around Christmastime, and there was some concern that that might happen again in this instance. But TVA has spent a lot of time and resources over the past year to make sure that all of their generation units were going to be up and running, and was also able to acquire the purchasing power that they needed to make up the power difference."

Cullman County Emergency Management Agency director Tim Sartin said Friday that motorists should continue to be cautious as they venture onto local roadways this weekend, where any remaining moisture — even on highly traveled highways and Interstate 65 — could refreeze as black ice overnight tonight and through Monday morning.

"Most of your main roads are going to be passable — places like [Alabama] Highway 157 and [U.S.] Highway 278. But there are places that will remain icy all weekend long, and there is still the ongoing potential for black ice. We're almost out of the woods with this weather event, but we're not quite there yet. Use caution, stay warm, and be safe."

Benjamin Bullard can be reached by phone at 256-734-2131 ext. 234.