By Cady Inabimett
Much of the southern United States experienced extreme cold weather on Feb. 15, as a winter storm moved across the country. This cold front resulted in low temperatures in the teens and high temperatures hovering around freezing across the area, in addition to an accumulation of snow and ice.
The weather caused the University to delay opening until 10 a.m. on both Feb. 15 and 16 due to potentially dangerous road conditions and for Shelby County schools to remained closed Feb. 16.
Cold weather such as what the area experienced on Feb. 15 can have serious health consequences for those who lack adequate heating in their homes or lack homes at all. While there is no available data on the number of homes that lack heating or the number of homeless people in Shelby County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau 6.2% of people in Shelby County live below the poverty line.
Warming stations and cold weather shelters often offer a means of refuge for those who lack adequate protection from the cold. However, there is no readily available information about warming stations and cold weather shelters in Shelby County.
When asked about Montevallo’s response to extreme winter weather, Mayor Rusty Nix said that the city has “tried warming centers in the past with not much luck,” citing the “lack of funds and volunteers as the reason.
Additionally, at a city council meeting on Jan. 25, citizen Joyce Sherer addressed the council about an issue faced by volunteers running a warming station at Montevallo First Baptist Church.
Sherer spoke very vaguely while discussing the issue but said that a man had been harassing volunteers at the warming station. Sherer did not go into specifics about the harassment, but did say that the church had “decided now that we’re not going to be doing it.”
It appears that First Baptist Church did decide to no longer host a warming station, as there was not a warming station opened there during the recent cold front. No other churches in the Montevallo area appeared to have hosted warming station during this time either.
The local Salvation Army chapter didn’t have any information about warming stations available either.
Shelby County Emergency Management Agency has a section for information regarding warming stations on their website, but there are no warming station locations listed.
Additionally, there is no information about measures in place to help mitigate the effects of extreme cold available on the Shelby County EMA website or in the Shelby County All Hazards, Multi-Jurisdictional Mitigation Plan, despite the plan pointing out the risks that many individuals face from extreme cold weather.
The plan points out that “many homes will be too cold,” that fire and carbon monoxide poisoning risks will increase “as people use space heaters and fireplaces to stay warm,” and that exposure to extremely cold temperatures can “lead to serious or life-threatening health problems such as hypothermia, cold stress, frostbite or freezing of the exposed extremities.”
Shelby County EMA was contacted for comment on this topic but did not respond.