If you live in most parts of the southeast United States, it probably wasn't very fun. The unexpected winter weather that hit Birmingham, Atlanta and all points in between really served as a knockout punch.
The day started off like any normal day. Snowflakes tend to really get people's attention in the Birmingham - but not because of it's pleasant appearance. No, snow makes people in these parts immediately cringe at the thought of school closings and driving conditions for which none of us are prepared.
My office building is located on Valleydale Road, very close to Hwy 31. When my employer made the call to send everyone home at 10:30 am on January 28th, I figured the best route to my home in the Hwy 280 area would be to take Hwy 31 over to Co Rd 119. I would last only about 50 yards on Hwy 31 as my tires lost all traction, just like everyone else around me. For some reason that I can't explain, I opted to back down into the Walgreens parking lot located on the corner of Hwy 31 and Helena Road to gather my thoughts. It didn't feel like it at the time, but this was a good decision. It seemed that the first of the snowfall melted on the paved roads and quickly froze - creating a sheet of ice on most surfaces. The snow that continued to fall didn't help the situation. Even vehicles equipped with 4WD were no match for the ice.
I instantly knew that I would not be able to drive home anytime soon but I assumed that the traffic situation would improve shortly. To kill some time, I walked to the IHOP restaurant that's located next to the Walgreens. I enjoyed a nice lunch and had the place all to myself.
A few other travelers joined me in IHOP after about an hour. But the staff politely informed us that the restaurant was closing and we had to leave. I paid for my meal and walked back to Walgreens. The snow was still falling at this point so I took a quick photo of the IHOP as I left.
Traffic had still not improved so I went into the Walgreens to purchase a magazine and snacks to keep me occupied in my truck while I continued to wait for the traffic to continue. I was not cold in my truck but watching over an unchanging scene at the intersection of Hwy 31 and Helena Road made me realize that I was not going to get home anytime soon. Here's a video I shot with my phone to recap the situation:
I spent the next few hours going from my truck back to Walgreens and the only thing that changed was the temperature - it was getting colder. The snow had stopped falling but I was not excited about the posibility of continuing my truck-to-Walgreens routine all night. However, it seemed like Walgreens was making the most of their surge in business.
Well played, Walgreens.
Several attempts to contact nearby motels were unsuccessful. I managed to contact my best friend that lived nearby to explore the possibility of staying at his house. It turned out that he was stuck at his office and his wife was actually at my house with Julie. He was fully supportive of me staying at his house...even though doing so would require me to break a window to get into his house.
At about 4:00 pm, I made the decision to start driving towards my friend's house. I turned left out of the Walgreens parking lot onto Helena Road and my tires immediately lost traction. Two kind gentlemen that were walking by helped push my truck all the way up to the next intersection and I turned right onto Old Montgomery Hwy. I managed to go about 200 yards before the back of my vehicle seemingly spun out from under me and I came to rest halfway in a ditch. Fortunately, I was right in front of an auto repair shop and the owner was at the ready with his four wheeler. He pushed my truck out of the ditch and offered for me to park in his lot. The road ahead was long and uphill so I quickly took him up on his offer.
By the crow flies, I was only a few hundred yards from my friend's house. But I'm not a crow and found myself walking almost a mile to his home. I'm not sure if it was adrenalin or the fast pace of my walk but I never got unbearably cold or numb during the walk. I took some photos of the winter scene before bringing myself to break my buddy's window.
I really didn't want to break the window and the first items I attempted to use were not successful. I borrowed a hammer from the neighbor and broke the window on the second swing.
I made my way into the house (still not very cold) and placed phone calls to some very worried people. I then cleaned up the broken glass to the best of my abilities and made a makeshift patch for the window.
I parked myself on my buddy's couch and tried to wrap my mind around what just happened. I watched the local news on in glorious HD while I ate some of the snacks from Walgreens.
More phone calls and more TV but soon I was off to sleep - warm, dry and safe thanks to my friends.
The roads were still icy on the morning of the 29th. Newscasters were encouraging everyone to stay put. I imagined that the neighborhood roads looked like my friend's driveway - like an ice skating rink.
I passed the time with phone calls, texts and watching TV. I'm pretty sure I watched the only appearance or mention of Red Man chewing tobacco in the entire Miami Vice series.
In addition to bad driving conditions, my friends had another big concern at hand. They had been unable to reach their 2 year old son at his school. I cannot even begin to understand how frustrating and frightening that situation must have felt. Fortunately, they were both able to make their way home the afternoon of the 29th. Even better, my buddy was able to pick up his son on his way home. It was a big relief when their family was all together again and we all took a minute to enjoy the snow with their son.
We continued to watch the news and what I saw didn't make me feel as if I could drive home. My friends allowed me to stay another night. We traded war stories while we ate a great dinner before hitting the hay.
On the morning of the 30th, we continued to watch news reports as the temperature climbed to the upper teens. It was encouraging to see more cars driving past the house so at about 11:00 am, my friend and I decided to make our way to our cars, in opposite directions. The road conditions had vastly improved - and the temperature hadn't even eclipsed the freezing point yet. The day was only going to get better. I finished the walk back to my truck and took a quick photo of the auto repair shop so that I could remember to thank them properly later.
I noticed some lingering icy patches on the roads on the way back home but I bet they didn't last long as the day continued to warm. Many cars remained along the roadsides but many drivers were also getting their cars out of the way. Driving slow and carefully, it didn't take me long to get home - and I had two very happy people waiting to greet me when I arrived!
Thinking back on the whole experience, I realize that the best outcome for me definitely played out. Had I decided to go home on Valleydale Road, I would have gotten stuck just like hundreds of other people. But I would have been nowhere near my house or my friend's house. The Lord was watching over me and got me as far as I could go. When I couldn't go any further, He put me right in front of that auto repair shop. I'm so thankful for my friends (Emily and Clay Branch) for allowing me to break their window and to stay in their home. I really, really don't know what I would have done without them. Don't worry guys - Julie has already been in touch with a window repairman!
I'm also thankful for all the prayers that everyone sent up for me - they really worked!
If you will excuse me now, I've got to pack a winter survival bag to keep in my truck and obtain a copy of my friend's house key!