Here’s a look back at the winter weather disaster that impacted much of Alabama on the day of January 28, 2014. Thousands of people were stranded on the roads as the snow fell and quickly caused roads to become blocks of ice. It was a bad combination of very cold air, heavy snow, and tons of traffic thrown into the wintry weather at it’s peak. Schools and businesses let out at the same time, causing a rapid increase in traffic. This occurred at the peak of the snow, causing traffic to stop on all roads and interstates in our area. With people stranded in their cars, many hiked in the snow to get to shelter for the night, as temperatures were dangerously cold. Here’s a great re-cap of the event from the National Weather Service in Birmingham:
The Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast states were impacted by a rather significant winter storm during the period of January 28-30, 2014. Central Alabama had it’s encounter with the system on Tuesday, January 28th, when freezing rain and snow fell across much of the area. Below is a recap of the event across NWS Birmingham’s county warning area.
The snow event on Tuesday, January 28, 2014, really began two days earlier on Sunday the 26th. On that Sunday afternoon, it was nearly unfathomable that conditions were going to be so radically different in just a mere 48 hours. Temperatures were near 60 degrees in the northern sections of Central Alabama, while further south, it was even warmer with temperatures rising into the middle 60s in the Montgomery area. This led to the first forecast problem, the warmer ground and especially the warmer road temperatures.
As we went into Monday, a major change was taking place as yet another Arctic front was headed south across the area. Most of the region warmed rapidly during the morning through the mid afternoon hours, but just a few hours after sunset most locations had dropped well into the 20s with really dry air diving southward. In fact, several dewpoints registered in the negative digits. This drier air only served to re-enforce the already problematic forecast by making it difficult to determine exactly how long it would take to moisten the atmosphere on Tuesday. The issue of just how far north the winter precipitation would fall was also a huge concern considering the extrememly low dewpoints that were in place across portions of the area.
By early Tuesday, it was apparent that a lot of moisture was moving into the area, and those negative dewpoints were quickly rising. Meanwhile, the surface temperatures were dropping in conjunction with the heavy precipitation, and most surface temperatures were struggling to get past 20 degrees! This caused huge forecast headaches because the atmosphere had moistened so quickly that snow up north and sleet and freezing rain south were already beginning to reach the ground several hours earlier than anticipated. The next forecast issue was the colder than forecast surface temperatures that were allowing the snow ratios to be nearly 20:1, almost unheard of in Alabama. (Typically snow to liquid ratios are around 10:1 in our part of the country.) Thirdly, even though there was a lot of dry air across the northern half of the state, the snow rates were just heavy enough to allow snow to accumulate further north than originally forecast. Finally, and the worst impact of all – those warm temperatures from Sunday and early Monday allowed the first layer of snow to melt on contact and refreeze as a sheet of ice on all the roadways in the 20 degree weather. This led to all of the traffic nightmares across the entire area and people being stranded for many hours Tuesday!
In the end, Alabama State Troopers responded to 731 vehicle accidents across the state during the period Tuesday through Friday (Jan 28th-31st). Sadly, there were nine deaths attributed to accidents that occurred due to the icy road conditions. Snowfall totals across Central Alabama ranged from zero in the far northwest to 2-3 inches in a corridor from Chilton County northeast to Randolph County. Prior to the snowfall, some counties in the southeast half of the state reported up to 0.25 inches of ice accumulation.
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WVUA Chief Meteorologist
Source: NWS Birmingham