Monday, February 3, 2014

Snow in Alabama

I have been warned about snow in Alabama. It happens rarely but always produces chaos. That's why I double-checked the weather forecast before leaving the house on Tuesday last week. And it clearly said that Birmingham would get a dusting at the most, some flurries that won't stick.
Thinking that it would be a normal day, I packed Sophie and Ella in the car and dropped Sophie off at her daycare as every Tuesday. Ella and me hit the gym. It was her first time in the drop-in daycare there and I was excited for my yoga class. So far, so good. Everything worked as planned. But when my yoga class started, I saw snowflakes coming down. That did not worry me, because the forecast had been talking about flurries... BUT they did not melt on the ground as forecasted! Within minutes, streets were covered in snow.
Now, you probably think: Where is the problem? 

The big problem is that Birmingham does not have ice or snowplows like you would normally find in cities that get snow on a regular basis. Some women in my yoga class got phone calls and left because schools were closing. I did not get one. I started to worry and called the daycare to double check and yes, they had planned on closing at 11.30 am too. It was 10.30 am when I got this information. I picked up Ella from the drop-in daycare and we hurried to the car. Now, it usually takes me 30 minutes from our house to get to Sophie's daycare. From the YMCA it probably would have taken me 20 minutes on a normal day. But January 28 was not a normal day.
Driving was crazy. People here are not used to snow, so a lot of them were scared and you could see that in the way they drove. It was crazy cold, too. Minus 8 degrees Celsius. So the snow covered streets turned into ice covered streets soon.

I did not have food for Ella, just a little fruit pouch. I gave that to her before we went into the car. It took me about an hour to get to highway 280, a drive that would usually take 10 minutes. When I hit 280, the real problems started. NOTHING was moving! It took about an hour to drive 0.2 miles. I could watch my gas tank getting more and more empty and Ella started crying, because she was hungry.

Please excuse the bad quality of my pictures!

My car, a GOLF TDI, had trouble on the ice covered streets going downhill. I started to freak out. And I have been driving in really bad weather before. Austria gets a lot of snow, so this is nothing new to me. I am, however, not used to streets that have not been cleared at all and are just blank ice. I mentioned that my car is a TDI because Diesel is not really common in the US. This means that not all gas stations sell Diesel. And of course, the first two gas station that I tried DID NOT have any. The third one on my GPS list had some, but I never made it there. I made it to a parking lot though, where Ella and me hurried into Walgreens to get food for her. This was almost four hours after we had left the gym. While at Walgreens, I overheard people talking about highway 280 basically being shut down. Even 4WD did not make it up the hill going up to Chelsea and this was exactly the hill that I had to drive to get to Sophie's daycare. My cell phone was almost out of battery (why do such things always happen in tricky situations???) so I wrote down Alex number and the daycare number and decided to walk.

I was about two miles away from the daycare and saw a lot of people walking next to the highway. I luckily had extra clothing for Ella with me and dressed her in two pairs of tights, pants, a onesie, two shirts, a jacket and a hat and put her in the Ergo carrier. I on the other hand was dressed in leggings, a tank top, a thin sports jacket and another thin jacket. Topped off with adidas ballerinas.. STUPID ME! But then again, I had no clue that this day would go in such a direction. I bought thermo socks, a hat and gloves at Walgreens and off we went.

Walking was not as bad as I thought it would be. I think I was in an adrenaline rush. I wanted to be with Sophie and would have done anything to get there. I started talking to a really nice man (and I forgot his name, shame on me) and he walked with me. He held my hand, made sure that I would not slip because streets were icy and we were not even walking on a street but next to the highway.  About half a mile before we reached the daycare, a really nice couple picked us up with their pick up truck and drove us the rest. I was so happy and relieved!

Being reunited with Sophie felt great, but then I started to worry about Alex. He was at that time still in the office. I tried to convince him to stay and spend the night there, but he head heard that the highway from Vance to Birmingham was not that bad and wanted to give it a try. Well, turns out the highways were alright, but the exits and side streets were really bad. He ended up parking his car at a Walgreens (ha, see a connection there? :) parking lot and started walking to a hotel in Hoover, where his colleagues from Germany had a room. He was picked up by a couple with a Jeep, too. They drove him to the hotel and he was able to spend the night there. What a relief!

Sophie, Ella and me spent the night at Sophie's daycare. Together with 11 other kids, five parents and five teachers. It was clearly an adventure and we were very happy to leave on Wednesday afternoon. Alex was able to retrieve his car and picked us up.

You can find more pictures on what Birmingham looked like that day here.

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