Icy layer remains, travel 'treacherous'

Jan. 17—Even at a slow crawl Wednesday, vehicles along Interstate 65 were moving — a point of progress, of sorts, after ice and near-zero temperatures conspired this week to bring virtually all motion to a halt across Cullman County.

The icy layer that coated the county late Monday remained firmly fixed as the thermometer on Tuesday and Wednesday stubbornly refused to climb above the freezing mark — though forecasters anticipate temperatures, at last, to rise above freezing, even if only slightly, during the afternoon hours Thursday.

City and county schools will be closed Thursday.

Even a brief window of warmer weather will help, said Cullman County Commission chair Jeff Clemons, who on Wednesday continued to monitor efforts by the county road and sanitation departments to address widespread icing on the area's rural roads and resume customers' regular trash pickup service.

"We had our road department out Tuesday night trying to treat the roads, and we have been able to get some of them treated," said Clemons. "But our department's trucks are two wheel-drive vehicles, and they really have had a hard time covering very much territory.

"We had planned to resume trash pickup from 10 a.m. today [Wednesday]," he added. "But once our sanitation folks got out there, they realized that simply wasn't going to be feasible. We fully intend to resume trash pickup services as soon as we can, beginning on Friday, and will have sanitation crews doing whatever it takes — including running routes on Saturday — to get everyone's garbage collected. If your route falls on one of the days that we have missed because of weather, go ahead and have your garbage set out for pickup by Thursday night, and our crews will get to it on Friday or over the weekend."

As of midday Wednesday, no fatalities had been reported from among the dozens of wrecks, including several tractor-trailer crashes, that had occurred since Monday on county and state roadways, anywhere in Cullman County.

"We have had so many 18-wheeler wrecks since this all started," said Cullman County Emergency Management Agency director Tim Sartin on Wednesday. "We've had more than six 18-wheelers that have jackknifed just this morning — not just on the interstate, but all over the county: Highway 278, [Highway] 157, a wreck at the Duck River bridge, and two or three incidents in the Good Hope area. There have been some close calls, though: There was a report this morning of a pickup truck hanging over a bluff off of County Road 109."

With temperatures remaining below freezing at least through midday, EMA continues to advise all Cullman County motorists that local roads remain open but "treacherous" and "impassable" until further notice. Sartin said EMA will assess area road conditions as temperatures warm Thursday, and issue an update to that advisory via social media, county offices, and news media as soon as possible.

Thursday's temperatures could reach as high as 40 degrees in some local areas, though that's not anticipated to signal a warming trend: The Huntsville office of the national Weather Service on Wednesday forecast evening temps tonight diving back into the 20s, even as a weather system enters the area late today that will bring either rain or a wintry precipitation mix.

Depending on temperature and timing, the fresh round of moisture will either help wash away the existing layer of roadway ice, or exacerbate the possibility of further deteriorating road conditions heading into the weekend, as high temperatures on both Friday and Saturday are expected to linger near or below freezing.

Benjamin Bullard can be reached by phone at 256-734-2131 ext. 234.