By John Brice
Below freezing temperatures descended on Chambers County along with much of the nation in the early morning hours of Thursday, December 22nd and continued unabated through Tuesday, December 27th.
What has been described as a “once in a generation storm” by the National Weather Service office in Buffalo, New York and unofficially dubbed “Winter Storm Elliott” by cable television news network The Weather Channel brought single digit temperatures from the Pacific Northwest all the way to the coasts of New England, across the Midwest, down into Texas, through Tennessee and into the deep south.
Temperatures in Chambers County dipped into the low teens for several consecutive days and while there was little if any precipitation, several local government agencies issued dire warnings and persistently urged residents in the area to thoroughly prepare for potential emergencies caused by the arctic blast.
Preparations for individuals suggested by the NWS in Huntsville included dressing in layers, covering exposed skin and limiting time outdoors to avoid hypothermia and frostbite that can occur in mere minutes with such freezing temperatures. Drivers heading for the road were advised to keep their gas tanks more than half full, adequately inflate tires to ensure ideal air pressure and to keep blankets as well as safety kits in their cars as they embarked on holiday travel.
Pets were recommended to be brought indoors and limits imposed on their outdoor time. Pipes bursting from freezing water was a major concern which prompted guidance including thermostats set at a minimum of 65 degrees, opening cabinets under sinks to expose them to heated air and leaving faucets open at a slow drip to keep water pressure active.
Rain and temperatures in the 50s that continued until the evening of Wednesday, December 21st leading into the cold front prompted warnings of black ice forming, frozen tree limbs falling down and extreme gusts of wind blowing as the warm air and moisture met the freezing air moving swiftly into the area. Wind chill advisories and hard freeze warnings were issued repeatedly for several consecutive days.
Extreme widespread winter weather coming to pass in the last days before Christmas caused major shipping companies such as the United Parcel Service and Federal Express to regretfully inform customers that crucial deliveries of time sensitive packages could be delayed until after the holidays due to substantial disruptions at major facilities such as the FedEx hub in Memphis.
Airline travelers were made to worry by incoming and outgoing flight delays and cancellations that occurred at airports in Huntsville and Birmingham. East Alabama Water, Sewer, and Fire District issued a notice to their customers that they were “aware of low pressure issues in the Fredonia area and other areas due to extreme cold temperatures and multiple customers with broken pipes.” as of Monday, December 26th at 1:16 pm.
Warming centers were generously provided to residents lacking adequate heating in their homes by the City of Lanett and the West Point Police Department. According to the Chambers County Emergency Management Agency, the City of Valley was deficient in being unable to provide a warming center to protect its residents in desperate need.