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From out of snowhere

By Scott Buttram

TRUSSVILLE — As significant impending severe weather days go, Tuesday did not even cause an eyebrow to be raised in The Trussville Tribune office. There seemed to be absolutely no reason for concern as the morning began.

Editor Gary Lloyd was preparing to cover the Trussville City Council meeting and rush home to report the story and finish the layout process of this week’s newspaper. I was focused on a full day of photography at Hewitt-Trussville High School.

Gary and I often confer when we believe that weather may be an issue. I recall an early morning meeting before the April 27 storms ravaged Tuscaloosa and other parts of Alabama in 2011. Gary had received information from a former classmate working with the National Weather Service that alerted us to expect the worst, and the worst came.

Tuesday, there was no such warning or information. Even the predicted “dusting” of snow seemed to be a possible, if not probable, no show.

When the snow flurries came, the conditions did no more than confirm the expected dusting. There was no reason for concern based on extensive reports from multiple trusted weather sources.

Things began to change when reports from Tuscaloosa, which had virtually the same forecast as Jefferson County, were more problematic than anticipated, but nothing alarming. Then came the call that Jefferson County schools would close at 10:30 a.m.

We still weren’t hearing or seeing anything unexpected other than a few scattered reports. I called the Trussville City Schools office to inform them of the Jefferson County announcement and to check the Trussville status. School leaders were discussing the situation and we compared notes and said we would stay in touch.

Within 10 minutes the situation to the west was deteriorating rapidly. I grabbed my computer and headed to the school board office. En route, the announcement came that TCS would close at 11:30 a.m. and buses would run on schedule. There seemed to be plenty of time for all area schools to get students home safely.

The rapidity of the severe weather shocked even the most seasoned veterans of meteorology.  FOX 6 meteorologist J.P. Dice said Tuesday night that it wasn’t just the increased volume of snow, which surpassed predictions, but the speed in which it froze and formed a solid sheet of ice. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Dice said.

ABC 33/40 chief meteorologist James Spann called the situation a “huge forecasting error” and said “hundreds and hundreds” of motorists were stranded on major highways. He said that Alabama citizens should not blame school systems or city workers for the conditions of the roads and timing of schools being let out.

Meanwhile, Jefferson County school buses were being forced to turn back and Trussville was finding that bus drivers couldn’t even make it in to run the early routes.

While parents may picture school officials twiddling their thumbs instead of making a decision, that could not be further from the truth. Literally dozens of school employees in both systems were rapidly gathering information from a multitude of sources and compiling data. The single question to be answered was what was best for the children.

To say the end result was impressive would be an understatement. Faced with stranded children and stranded parents that couldn’t reach some students, schools across our coverage area jumped into action, planning meals, activities and sleepovers with the assistance of local volunteers.

All the while, principals like Betsy Schmitt, Beth Bruno, Michael Lee and others were communicating progress to parents and Tribune readers via social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

We heard from teachers and students, too. All was well. In fact, it appears a good time was had by all.

It’s easy to forget that many of the school employees are also parents — parents first. That’s an instinct that doesn’t go away and it served our children well. When my first-grader saw the pictures from Paine, she wanted to go back to school. She had to settle for the photos.

All across the the metro area, everyday citizens seized the Good Samaritan moment. The stories are endless of strangers helping strangers. Still, thousands slept in hotels, motels, 24-hour businesses and vehicles on the side of the road. No one saw this coming.

It’s an easy thing to blame the meteorologists or county, or city officials or school leaders. Of course, one would only embarrass himself or herself by doing so because this entire mess came out of snowhere.

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