BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Gov. Robert Bentley issued a state of emergency for all of Alabama amid an approaching winter storm that prompted schools and businesses to announce closures or late openings Tuesday in northern counties forecast to get the brunt of any ice, sleet or snow.
The planned shutdowns and delayed openings came as schools and businesses prepared for the worst, unwilling to risk students and workers getting stranded like they did during an earlier snow and ice storm two weeks ago.
Bentley, in an interview Monday with The Associated Press, said he was activating the state’s emergency operations center, which coordinates disaster operations from Clanton, and placing a National Guard wrecker unit on standby in case it was needed to clear clogged roads.
“We’re not going to take any chances,” Bentley said.
Thousands of schoolchildren in north Alabama will get at least one day off from class because of the potential for a wintry mix that forecasters warn could leave parts of the state with as much as 3 inches of snow and ice by Wednesday. Additional closings could be added as the storm system approaches Alabama and other nearby Southern states.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for a 14-county area extending from Mississippi to Georgia that included the cities of Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Anniston and Gadsden, and a winter storm advisory was in place for the remainder of Alabama’s northern half.
Forecasters said Birmingham and its northern suburbs would likely receive as much as 1 inch of snow and ice by Tuesday morning, and as much as 3 inches could coat areas further north to the Tennessee River. Precipitation totals could be even greater in mountainous northeastern Alabama, forecasters said, and a second round of winter weather could hit Tuesday night.
State trucks were out spraying a salty solution on highways to keep them from freezing as quickly as normal, and cities and counties began a string of closings.
At a Piggly Wiggly grocery store in Cullman, a heavy stream of customers came through all day stocking up on supplies.
“The usual: bread, milk and eggs,” assistant manager Kevin Aaron said.
In the Birmingham suburb of Hoover, police Capt. James Coker said the city was getting ready with resources such as sand trucks and snow tires in case a winter storm hit the city again.
“Here we go again,” he said.
Cullman County canceled court proceedings because of the expected weather, and more than two dozen school systems as far south as Shelby County called off classes after forecasters issued a winter storm warning. Other systems announced plans to open late.
Calhoun County schools, with 9,400 students and 1,207 employees, were among the first to call off classes because of the weather.
“It is too uncertain, and it does seem unwise to stay open given that we’re likely to get some inclement weather,” said superintendent Joe Dyar. In late January, when central Alabama received far more snow and ice than predicted, the sheriff’s office had to use Humvees to take some children and workers home.
Regions Financial Corp., with about 6,000 Birmingham-area employees, about 2,750 of whom had to sleep at work during the last storm, said it was delaying opening branches and corporate offices in central Alabama on Tuesday. The company also was reserving hotel rooms for employees in critical jobs.
“At this point everyone is fine as far as going home today, but there will be additional discussions,” said Jeremy King, a spokesman for the banking company.
In Florence, Waffle House was ready for the worst.
“We’re already getting people into motels and getting prepared, particularly for people who might live out in the country and need to get to work,” said Anna Risner, district manager for the restaurants. “Waffle House has to be one step ahead of the weather.”
Thousands of people were stranded at work after about 2 inches of snow and ice fell in central Alabama on Jan. 28, and more than 11,000 children had to spend the night in public schools because buses could not travel slippery roads and parents could not reach schools.
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