Most roads throughout Calhoun County remained officially closed Thursday, but motorists began to take to the main streets again, trying to get to work or the grocery store after being snowed in for most of the previous two days.
Temperatures in the area climbed above freezing for the first time since Monday, peaking in the 40s by mid-afternoon, melting the ice and letting drivers recover vehicles they had left stranded.
Just before 11 a.m. Thursday, Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart announced the city was opening Alabama 202, U.S. 431, Quintard Avenue, McClellan Boulevard, Noble Street, and Veterans Memorial Parkway south of Choccolocco Road, although the mayor warned residents to continue to travel with caution because ice was still on the roads. All city roads except Greenbrier Dear Road and Henry Road were opened at 5 p.m.
The story was much the same in Oxford, where police Chief Bill Partridge announced the main roads in the city were open around noon.
“The secondary roads are still iced,” Partridge said around noon Thursday. “Drivers need to use extreme caution, and if you don’t need to be out on the roads, don’t chance it.”
Partridge said traffic on Interstate 20 moved at a snail’s pace around 2 p.m. as travelers heading east took things slowly due to ice on the highway.
Jacksonville police said all city streets there were open at 3 p.m. Thursday.
But while the roads inside the cities seemed to be improving Thursday, Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Matthew Wade said conditions might have become more hazardous for travelers on Thursday than they had been the previous two days.
“Is it safe? I’d say not,” Wade said. “You might be on a road that looks clear, going 40 or 50, turn onto a shady road with ice, and then you’re in a ditch.”
Wade said that as of Thursday, no major injuries because of the weather had been reported to the Sheriff’s Office.
Calhoun County Engineer Brian Rosenbalm said that while road crews worked to clear major throughways of traffic, many of the county’s back roads remained under sheets of ice Thursday morning. While temperatures climbed above freezing throughout the afternoon, Rosenbalm said drivers still needed to proceed with extreme caution.
Brian Corbett, acting as a spokesman with the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, said the Alabama Department of Public Safety and the National Guard were working Thursday morning to help motorists clear vehicles stranded in the Birmingham metro area.
“We will continue working this operation until the roadways are open,” Corbett was quoted in a press release as saying. “Citizens whose vehicles remain stranded will be given an opportunity to retrieve those vehicles when safe.”
Locally, the problem of abandoned cars wasn’t as hazardous, according to Wade, who said Thursday morning most cars had been removed from roadways. Stewart said most cars that had been left abandoned in Anniston had steadily been moved out of the way Wednesday and Thursday.
“It’s not an overwhelming concern,” the mayor said.
In Weaver, Mayor Wayne Willis said the streets were “in pretty good shape” and reopened most of the roads at noon. Willis said the biggest problem area for drivers was in the Shannon Hills neighborhood and on Parker Boulevard where some cars still blocked the roadway. Weaver police were out Thursday afternoon, attempting to locate vehicle owners to clear out the congested area.
As for long-term damage to roads, Rosenbalm said it’s still too early to tell how much impact the deep freeze will have in deteriorating asphalt around the county.
“We’ve seen freezes like this before where there have been significant problems,” Rosenbalm said, noting the sand and salt laid down on roads could also cause problems for street crews in coming days. “But right now, we just don’t know what the damage will be.”
Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.