Snowy street

Springhill Drive in the Wellborn area was quiet, except for the driver of a lone four-wheel-drive pick-up truck that braved the snow and ice Wednesday morning. (Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)


That's the only way to describe Calhoun County Wednesday morning, as residents woke to bitter cold and a light layer of snow.

It wasn't just the temperature, which was just barely in the teens. Whole neighborhoods seemed arrested in time. Streets were empty and eerily quiet.

A day after a winter storm blanketed the state with snow, these deserted streets were exactly what public safety officials wanted.

"Travel is discouraged," said Myles Chamblee, a spokesman for the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency. "Stay home and watch a movie."

Roads in Jacksonville, Anniston, Piedmont and Oxford were all closed Wednesday, according to the EMA, while roads in Weaver were "deemed impassable" and travel on county roads was "extremely discouraged." Heflin’s police chief announced roads were closed in that city, too.

The shutdown is all due to a snowfall that, at first glance, doesn't seem so bad. Snow arrived later than originally forecast Tuesday afternoon, and was lighter than expected.

The problem, officials say, is the hard freeze that followed the snow, allowing ice to accumulate on roads. Chamblee said that ice may not go away any time soon.

"The main concern for the day is that temperatures are not expected to get out of the teens until the afternoon and not above freezing all day," Chamblee said.

Meredith Wyatt, a forecaster for the National Weather Service, confirmed that, predicting that the temperature wouldn’t reach the 20s until about 1 p.m.

The temperature in Anniston was 10 degrees at 8 a.m., according to the weather service. Weather service advisories warned that with a windchill near 0 degrees, exposed skin could suffer frostbite in as little as 30 minutes.

“If you don’t have to go out, don’t go out,” she said.

Quiet streets

On Jacksonville’s west side, people seemed ready to heed that advice. Streets were empty, save for a few bootprints — with pawprints alongside — that suggested early morning dog-walkers had passed by. Drivers on the roads were few.

One of those drivers was Dylan Miller, a Jacksonville resident who said he was on his way to the Honda plant in Lincoln, where his shift was delayed but not canceled Wednesday.

In an email, Honda spokesman Ted Pratt said production at the factory was shut down at 10 a.m. Tuesday due to the weather, with a plan to start later than normal on Wednesday. A “limited staff” reported to work Wednesday, and production was suspended around 11:30 a.m., Pratt wrote. Second- and third-shift production operations Wednesday were also suspended.

By noon Wednesday Anniston roads were mostly empty of traffic. “Closed” signs hung in the windows of many restaurants along Quintard Avenue and Noble Street.

A tractor-trailer headed west on Greenbrier-Dear Road remained stranded near the top of a hill for more than an hour Wednesday morning. Its trailer blocked two lanes of the roadway as Anniston police helped a few motorists around it.

Anniston police officer Stephen Garmon stopped his car to pick up a woman who’d walked from Regional Medical Center to South Noble on her way to Oxford after her car broke down.

Across town, stop lights flashed yellow and patches of roadway peeked through layers of white powder.

Brisk business

Most shops in downtown Anniston were closed, but there were a few restaurants open for business. The Waffle House on Quintard had a parking lot nearly full of vehicles. A few blocks north, the McDonald's was open, though serving a limited menu with drive-thru service only. Across the street, Jack’s had a steady lunch crowd.

Mike White, manager of the Pic n’ Sav grocery store on Quintard, said customers were few and far between on Wednesday.

“It’s been slow today so far,” White said Wednesday afternoon. “We have had thousands of phone calls from people wanting to know if we’re open.”

White said the grocery store had its big rush of customers over the past three days, unlike the snowfall last month, when residents flooded in the day of the event.

“This one everyone kind of had a heads-up about it,” White said of the snow.

The grocery store was open, but not at full strength. The store had four employees working instead of the usual seven.

White said he had to drive down 10th Street from home to the store around 4:30 a.m. to unlock the doors.

“It was slick, but I took it real slow,” he said.

By midafternoon, a steady stream of traffic had returned to Jacksonville’s main thoroughfare, Pelham Road. Some of those cars were headed to the corner of Pelham and Mountain Street, where Waffle House and Grub Mart did brisk business all day. Both stores are a short walk from the Jacksonville State University campus.

“We’re selling a lot of beer,” said Grub Mart clerk Bernice Bragg, who had a short line of customers around 1 p.m.

Not long after Bragg spoke to The Star, emergency management officials declared Jacksonville and Piedmont roads open again. Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge announced on Twitter that his city’s streets would remain closed until sometime on Thursday.

Jacksonville State announced later Wednesday it would reopen Thursday at 11 a.m., as did Gadsden State Community College.

Few major problems

Meanwhile, the emergency room at Regional Medical Center in Anniston also had a slow work day Wednesday despite the hazardous weather.

“Amazingly enough, we have not seen any vehicle crashes,” Edith Trammell, emergency room nurse manager, said Wednesday afternoon. “I think people are heading the warnings and staying off the road.”

Instead, the emergency room only had typical cases Wednesday, such as patients with abdominal pain or the flu, Trammell said.

The ER was still fully staffed with employees who spent the night so the hospital would be ready for any situation.

“The staff has been amazing,” Trammell said. “The hospital provided sleeping arrangements and food free of charge ... it’s kind of like a big camp out.”

The weather service overnight posted a “civil emergency message” warning drivers to stay off roads in several counties along the Interstate 85 corridor, well south of Anniston. Wyatt said there were reports of weather-related crashes in some counties south of Clanton.

Despite the bitter cold, Chamblee said there were no reports of major problems, such as injuries or power outages, overnight.

That stands in contrast to last month's snowfall, which left wide swaths of Calhoun County without power. Those outages were largely due to trees and limbs that broke under the weight of snow — something that doesn't seem to be a problem this morning.

"It's just not the same kind of snow," Chamblee said.

Staff writer Tim Lockette reported from Jacksonville. Staff writers Kirsten Fiscus and Patrick McCreless contributed reporting from Anniston. 

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.