Storm brought cost and work, if not much snow
by Eddie Burkhalter and Laura Camper
Star Staff Writers
Feb 13, 2014 | 3411 views |  0 comments | 57 57 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Hal Willingham wipes snow and ice off his windshield at his home on Forest Lane in Anniston. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
Hal Willingham wipes snow and ice off his windshield at his home on Forest Lane in Anniston. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
Several days and thousands of dollars were spent in the area this week preparing for a winter storm that never was.

Local school children got three days off and road crews spent hours sanding roads and watching the sky, but by Thursday morning life in Calhoun County was largely back to normal.

Forecasters predicted 2 to 3 inches of snow for some parts of the county, but only about an inch fell in the Anniston area by Thursday morning. It was enough to cover lawns and rooftops, but too little to cause as many travel problems as were predicted. Most of the snow had melted away by mid-afternoon.

Temperatures in the Anniston area stayed above freezing longer than was predicted, said Kristina Sumrall, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s office in Calera, which meant rain instead of snow and ice, until about sundown Wednesday.

The top of Lookout Mountain in Cherokee County recorded 6 inches of snowfall by Thursday morning, the highest amount of snow recorded in the state, Sumrall said.

Fool me once ...

After the surprise winter storm two weeks ago that caught the area off guard, city and county officials prepared for the worst by ordering more sand and positioning vehicles loaded with it strategically throughout the county.

Brian Connery, administrative services manager for the Calhoun County Highway Department, estimated the total number of labor hours, including overtime, attributable to the storm was 1,731 at a cost of around $27,554. County road crews spread about 100 tons of material on roads at a cost of $985, Connery said.

The amount of sand spread Wednesday barely put a dent in the county’s stockpiles, said County Engineer Brian Rosenbalm.

Rosenbalm said that when ice comes to the county, Whites Gap Road and Cottaquilla Road between Jacksonville and White Plains are typically the most treacherous. Crews began sanding them at about 1 a.m. Thursday, he said, but the roads were never particularly dangerous, and they were never closed.

Roy Webb Road and Rabbittown Road south of Piedmont probably received the most slush, Rosenbalm said, but again, no major problems in clearing any of it.

"By the time we loaded up and got out to most of these places, there was nothing," Rosenbalm said. "It just sort of came in and went out without too much of a hassle."

All roads in Calhoun County were open by 8 a.m. Thursday with the exception of Bain’s Gap Road between McClellan and White Plains, which opened at 10:30 a.m.

Bob Dean, Anniston’s public works director, said Thursday morning he hadn’t yet calculated the storm-attributable costs, but that the city planned well and kept payroll costs to a minimum by rotating shifts.

“Everything went better than expected,” Dean said.

Dean said crews did sand a few bridges and along Greenbrier Dear Road on Wednesday, but it never got cold enough to freeze those areas over.

“That was about the only action. Otherwise, it was a quiet night,” Dean said. “That was a good thing. We were ready for the worst.”

Dean said he planned to bring in a skeleton crew of workers Thursday night in the event roads remain wet and freeze. Temperatures were expected to drop below freezing Thursday night.

“If we get through tonight I think that wraps up the whole thing,” Dean said.

Even if the predicted snowfall amounts had shown this time, Dean said, it would have been a much different situation than the storm two weeks ago that left drivers stranded, clogging roads and making rescue efforts and cleanup difficult.

This time, at least, everyone knew to stay home, he said.

To the east

Tree branches that fell onto power lines knocked out electrical power to about 1,900 Alabama Power customers in Cleburne County for about three hours Wednesday afternoon, said Alabama Power spokeswoman Allyson Tucker.

That power outage occurred before the worst of the snow and ice came later that day, Tucker said, and was likely caused by the heavy rains and winds.

Even still, officials in Cleburne County and the city of Heflin prepared for the worst as well.

Shannon Robbins, Cleburne County engineer, said that aside from some bridges and higher-altitude spots, the county’s streets were passable all day Wednesday and again early the next morning.

Robbins and Keith Yancy, Heflin’s Street Department supervisor, ordered sand to replace what was used in the last storm. They scheduled crews at the ready to combat the coming ice and snow.

County Administrator Steve Swafford said the preparations took a toll on county resources, but not excessively.

The county paid some overtime and doubled up on communication staff, but those labor costs were offset by the snow days taken by non-essential staff at county offices, Swafford said.

Those employees used vacation or sick time to cover the snow days, and that time was already accounted for in the budget when the employees earned it, he said.

The Heflin City Council decided to pay employees who were asked to take snow days rather than require them to use vacation or sick time, said City Clerk Shane Smith. Still, between the January storm and this week’s predicted storm, the city incurred less than $5,000 in extra expenses, Smith said.

That includes overtime for street department employees, a $15 per call paid to firefighters who responded to 28 accidents during the January snow storm and supplies the city would have had to replenish anyway, Smith said.

The employees would have been paid for their work if the weather emergency hadn’t been called; so no extra costs were incurred there, he said.

Swafford said the true cost of a weather emergency doesn’t occur in the budget, it occurs in the morale of the employees who serve during the stressful time.

“It’s more taxing on people’s emotions and people’s state of mind,” Swafford said. “It’s about the stress it puts on the system. We want things back to normal.”

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.

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Storm brought cost and work, if not much snow by Eddie Burkhalter and Laura Camper
Star Staff Writers

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