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Monday, Jan. 28, 2019 is the fifth anniversary of the ice storm that paralyzed the South in 2014. The Mobile office of the National Weather Service, on its website, presented this anniversary summary of the ice storm that struck on Jan. 28-29. This is what they had to say:
Ice and Sleet Storm Shuts Down Cities Across the Deep South
January 28-29, 2014
The above graphic (posted on social media) was the forecast several days in advance of the January 28-29 Winter Weather Event. Leading up to this event, we were becoming increasingly worried about the potential for a significant freezing rain and sleet event. On January 26th, our forecasters issued a Winter Storm Watch in advance of the January 28-29th Winter Weather Event. The graphic below shows all the Warnings and Advisories issued across the entire Southeast on January 27th leading up to the January 28-29th Winter Weather Event (graphic created by the NWS Office in Tallahassee, FL). Keep in mind, it was 63°F at the NWS Office in West Mobile, AL during the afternoon of January 27th when we issued this Winter Storm Warning!
Conditions started going downhill early on January 28th. The first report of freezing rain and sleet came in between 630-7am in the Thomasville, AL area (Clarke County), which resulted in a light glaze of ice on vehicles. Freezing rain was observed in Choctaw and Clarke Counties in AL around 9am with ice accrual on bridges and overpasses. Light snow was also observed in Choctaw County, AL between 9 and 10am. Freezing rain began in Mobile, AL by approximately 9am with ice accumulation observed on vehicles by 930am. Freezing rain started falling in the Pensacola, FL area around 1130am.
By 1230pm, Choctaw General Hospital in Butler, AL (Choctaw County) reported light to moderate snow. By 1pm, heavy sleet was reported in Lucedale, MS by the electric company. Emergency managers and their staff were reporting ice accumulating on many roads and highways by 2pm. Civil Emergency Messages were issued for Butler, Crenshaw, Conecuh, Clarke, Washington, Choctaw, Monroe and Wilcox Counties in Alabama due to extremely hazardous road conditions. Heavy sleet was starting to accumulate at the NWS Office around this time. The Governor and Alabama EMA Director urged residents to get off the roads as quickly as possible in the afternoon.
By 3pm, Clark County Emergency Manager reported a transition to all snow in the communities of Tallahatta Springs and Coffeeville, AL. George County, MS Emergency Manager reported all bridges and overpasses in the county were iced over at this time. Snow was observed in Scatch Ankle, AL by 330pm.
Choctaw General Hospital in Butler, AL measured 3 inches of snow by 4pm. In Excel, AL (Monroe County), an observer reported a temperature of 25.7°F with sleet and heavy ice accumulation. Road conditions across Mobile and Baldwin Counties were rapidly deteriorating by 4pm, which was confirmed by NWS employees driving into work for shift change. Vehicles were sliding off the interstates and ice was rapidly accumulating on bridges and overpasses around this time. This was the view of sleet covering the I-10 Bayway over Mobile Bay via ALDOT cameras and Fox10 News (Lenise Ligon).
The emergency manager in Crenshaw County reported every bridge and road was iced over before 5pm. Ice accumulation was becoming a big issue on the roadways across the entire area around sunset on the 28th. By 540pm, forecasters noticed a brightbanding feature on radar from a line roughly drawn between Atmore, AL up to Evergreen, AL around the I-65 corridor resulting in a band of heavy sleet for this area.
At 6pm, the sleet was 0.8 inches deep at the NWS Office in West Mobile. We received reports of 1-1.5 inches of sleet in Leroy, AL and 1 inch of sleet in Saraland, AL at 6pm. By 630pm, the wind chill was a whopping 12°F with heavy sleet observed at the NWS Office.
Snow continued to be observed at 8pm in Excel, AL just south of US-84 in Monroe County with a temperature of 23.9°F. Ice laden tree limbs were beginning to fall across the roadways in Santa Rosa County, FL. Freezing rain finally changed over to sleet in the Pensacola area around 830pm. The heavy sleet quickly began to accumulate the Pensacola area. As of 840pm, 1 3/4 visibility and snow were observed in Evergreen, AL.
Around 930pm, forecasters observed bright banding on radar along a line roughly drawn from Orange Beach, AL to Crestview, FL. Bright banding on radar resulted in observations of heavy sleet and freezing rain for those communities. Shortly before 10pm, we received a report of 2-2.5 inches of sleet and snow accumulation in the West Bend community in Clarke County, AL.
More rounds of snow and sleet continued to push across the area through the overnight hours. As of 10pm, the current observation at NAS Pensacola was a balmy 26°F with freezing rain. Heavy sleet continued to fall and accumulate in the Orange Beach, AL area as of 1130pm.
Just up the street from our office, we received 2 observations from meteorology students at the University of South Alabama of 1.2 and 1.25 inches of sleet at different locations on campus.
Snow and sleet came to an end across the area from west to east through the overnight hours. Coastal locations continued to receive sleet and/or snow into the pre-dawn hours across the Florida panhandle. Sleet changed over to snow in the Pensacola area around 1am on the 29th.
Temperatures plummeted into the teens to low 20s across the region with gusty northerly winds, which resulted in wind chills in the single digits early on the 29th.
The cloud cover stuck around across the region on the 29th, so the daytime high temperature only reached 31°F at the NWS Office in West Mobile (at the Mobile Regional Airport). According to the records, there have only been 43 days since the late 1800s with a high temperature of 32°F or lower in the Mobile, AL area. There have only been 24 days since the late 1800s with a high temperature of 32°F or lower in the Pensacola, FL area.
Temperatures hovering near or below freezing throughout the day led to icy and slushy conditions across many local waterways, including Mobile Bay. Freezing spray was even observed on several vessels in the nearshore and offshore waters.
Temperatures plummeted into the teens overnight on January 29th and into the early morning hours of January 30th. By 10pm on the 29th, the temperature was already 21°F at the Mobile Regional Airport. By the morning of the 30th, the Mobile Regional Airport dipped down to 16°F, Brookley Field hit 18°F and the Pensacola International Airport hit 20°F.
Many airports, roads, interstates, tunnels, bridges, and overpasses across the area remained closed and impassable on the 29th due to the aforementioned below freezing temperatures.
Schools remained closed and many city/county government offices also remained closed on the 29th. According to the Mobile Police Department, they responded to almost 300 weather related calls during the event (through the evening of the 29th). Ice was at least one inch thick on bridges and overpasses in the Mobile metro area.
I-10 was shut down in both directions from the Alabama/Florida state line (mile 1) to mile 233 in Jefferson County, FL spanning 10 counties (Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Holmes, Washington, Jackson, Gadsden, Leon and Jefferson Counties) for a total of 233 miles!
By the 30th, Mobile Regional Airport, Pensacola International Airport, and all other regional/local airports re-opened. The main roads began to slowly thaw out and the interstates re-opened as they were fully exposed to the sun. However, secondary and country roads (and parking lots) remained iced over for days after this event due to a dense tree canopy across the rural portion of our forecast area.
As if the snow and ice event was not rare enough, our forecast for the weekend had temperatures approaching 70°F!! Sunshine and climbing temperatures allowed ice to fall off roofs, tall buildings in downtown Mobile, powerlines, and off semi-trucks.