The first snowfall of the year came to the University of Montevallo early Jan. 28 and had multiple lasting impacts for the rest of the week.
Morning classes were cut short as the UM Alert System issued emails to students and faculty at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. Weather forecasts predicted a “dusting” of snow and a severe drop in temperatures. Governor Robert Bentley declared a State of Emergency and activated the Alabama National Guard in anticipation for the expected icing of roads.
Most facilities closed their doors for the rest of the day and all extracurricular activities were cancelled as students retreated into their dorms and commuters debated whether to drive on the snowy asphalt or stay on campus until conditions would improve. They didn’t improve.
Not only were roads in and around campus handicapped with layers of ice and slush by sundown on Tuesday night in Montevallo city limits, but many major highways and interstates from south of Huntsville to the Florida state line were closed due to the hazardous driving conditions.
Highway 119 between Montevallo and Alabaster was completely backed up with an overturned truck and dozens of cars stalled from Main Street up to the Crossroads Food Mart through Tuesday afternoon.
Students here, however, took advantage of the winter wonderland weather and went sledding on hills around Farmer Hall with container lids and laundry baskets, having a fun time during a rare occasion. Snowball fights and snowmen became common sights.
Many automobile accidents and traffic backups turned Birmingham’s major arteries, Interstate 65 and U.S. Route 280, into disarrayed parking lots. Thousands cars and public utility vehicles from Birmingham to Atlanta were abandoned overnight Tuesday and Wednesday as drivers ran out of gas. Churches, hotels and businesses opened their doors to the thousands of stranded commuters.
The snow fell until mid afternoon and temperatures dropped to a low of 14 degrees Tuesday night. The roads got worse throughout the night with ice on all roads. Main Street businesses closed their doors early.
The Anna Irvin Dining Hall remained operating at its regular hours despite running low on food items and working with a skeleton staff on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“We have not been able to get any deliveries since the storm, and because they didn’t predict this one, I didn’t know ahead of time to double up on a produce order,” said Jason Quarles, Executive Chef in a broadcast forUM email. “I left Montevallo at 5 p.m. (on Tuesday), abandoned my car on (Interstate) 459 at (the intersection of U.S. Route) 280 at 9 p.m. and finally made it home at 1 a.m.”
The Robert M. McChesney Student Activity Center (SAC) was turned into a warming station on short notice Tuesday night. Commuters stranded on campus by the weather were given snacks and warm drinks.Three students were the first to be transported from the SAC to Ramsay Hall for an overnight stay. Senior Kristen Herman came to attend her 8 a.m. class, only for her day to be cut short by the university closing. Before she could make it out of Montevallo on Highway 119, officers urged her to turn around.
“I’d rather be home, but it’s nice to have a place to stay,” she said.
Sophomore Jessica Thuleen was caught in a similar situation. After attempting to go back on Highway 25, she too was turned back by traffic authorities wary of the dangerously icy driving conditions.
When Thuleen made it back to campus, she attempted to find somewhere warm to wait and plan her next move. That turned into an unfruitful trek around Montevallo until she was correctly directed to the SAC.
Instead of the carefree snow day some students were having, Thuleen referred to it as a “frozen hell.” “I was born in Vegas, I want the warmth,” exclaimed Thuleen.
Senior Clay Dickenson never made it to an actual class. By the time he arrived in Montevallo from Hoover, the roads were already closing and the University had shut down. As he attempted to make his way back, he faced an uphill road he thought he could safely traverse.
As Dickenson attempted to climb the hill, his car slowly began to slow and finally slide all the way down into a snowy ditch. He hitchhiked a ride back to campus and found himself in the SAC.
With no relief from the icy road conditions in sight, the university closed its doors on Wednesday and Thursday.
As the ice and snow thaw and melt in and around Montevallo, the rest of central Alabama will slowly return to normal.
featured photo by Cocoa Laney