Snow to fall through 9 p.m. (updated 8:30 p.m.)

Published 12:33 pm Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Troy University students play in the snow on campus in Troy, Ala., Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. (Photo/Mona Moore)

Troy University students play in the snow on campus in Troy, Ala., Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. (Photo/Mona Moore)

Weather service forecasters are expecting up to two inches of snow to fall in Pike County through 9 p.m. Tuesday.

The snowfall comes after more than five hours of sleet and freezing rain, and the combination of ice and snow is expected to cause continued travel hazards.

Jeanna Barnes, Pike County EMA director, said more than a quarter of an inch of  the freezing mixture fell before the snowfall began.

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“The snow should be ending within a couple of hours, and then we will just be dealing with hazardous conditions from the aftermath,” she said. “We probably won’t see temperatures above freezing until Thursday.”

The National Weather Service is forecasting a high of only 31 degrees Wednesday, with temperatures dropping to 14 degrees overnight and into Thursday morning.

Because of that, officials continued to warn residents to stay off the roads.

“It’s just too dangerous out there,” said Troy Mayor Jason Reeves.

Reeves said city officials are urging residents to remain off the city streets until they become passable. “We don’t know when that will be, but we have crews working and watching.”

John Bergschneider, assistant engineer for the Pike County Road Department, said earlier Tuesday his department was anticipating the winter storm will hit Pike County hard. “We’re hoping the weatherman will be wrong,” Bergschneider said. “We had crews out this morning getting equipment ready, and all of our crews are currently on standby.”

Jeanna Barnes, director of the Pike County EMA, said the main threat to the county will come from ice. “The National Weather Service in Birmingham changed our forecast to warn for ice,” Barnes said. “We could receive up to a quarter-inch of ice. We could receive up to possibly two inches or more of snow on top of that ice.”

All of this has combined to make Winter Storm Leon one of the most challenging storms that has hit Pike County in recent years.

The National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Warning beginning Tuesday and extending through Wednesday. The forecast for Pike County calls for freezing rain to begin falling around lunchtime with up to a quarter-inch of ice accumulating. In the evening, the freezing rain will turn to snow. It is estimated that between one and two inches of snow will fall on Tuesday night.

Around the county, the main concern is keeping roads safe for motorists. The Pike County Commission closed all Pike County Roads at midnight Tuesday until further notice. As of noon Tuesday, no roads in Troy have been closed.

Bergschneider said the road department’s main focus is keeping roads safe and keeping motorists off the roads. “Our primary focus is to provide a safe roadway system,” Bergschneider said. “We have trucks full of the driest sand we could find to spread on the road. Sand is the most effective tool we have. We have 642 miles of paved roads and 240 miles of dirt roads that we service in the county. Our equipment is spread out evenly to service the major roads as quickly as possible.”

The City of Troy has taken similar steps to combat the expected ice. “Our Departments of Public Works and Environmental Services are on standby to deal with any ice on the road,” said Richelle Jeffcoat at the mayor’s office. “We have sand and salt prepared to put on the roads as needed. If you experience a utility outage, you can call 566-0500 to report it. We will have our utility crews on standby all day Tuesday and Wednesday. If you see an ice-covered road, you can call the same number to report it to our Department of Environmental Services.”

Car accidents caused by the inclement weather are the main fear of the county and city governments. Both are urging people to stay off the roads if possible. “The county is strongly encouraging that people avoid travel unless it is extremely necessary,” Barnes said. “Our main worry is people losing control of their vehicles on the ice.”

Bergschneider offered the same advice. “If you don’t need to be out driving, stay at home,” Bergschneider said. “Last time we had a snow storm, we had a lot of people crashing in to snow banks. Bridges are the first things to ice over in storms. They are exposed to air and are relatively thin pieces of concrete compared to normal roadways. Those are going to be your big trouble areas.”

Reeves said the City of Troy is encouraging people to stay at home. “We want people, unless they absolutely have to get out, especially after lunch on Tuesday, to stay at home,” Reeves said. “The later in the day it gets, the worse the weather will become. The less traffic we have on the roads, the safer off we’ll all be. We’re not going to close our roads at this time, but we do ask people to stay off them if at all possible.”

The Troy Police Department offered further advice for motorists. “The weather is going to get worse, and it’s going to get worse quick,” Lt. Bryan Weed said. “We are already receiving reports from Montgomery and Macon Counties about a large number of traffic accidents. We are encouraging everybody, unless it is absolutely necessary, to stay off the roads especially bridges and low-lying areas where moisture can accumulate.”

If drivers do have to go out on the icy roads, Weed asked that motorists be extremely careful while driving. “I know a lot of people, especially (Wednesday), will be out driving around to enjoy the snow,” Weed said. “We ask people to enjoy the snow it home. Be mindful of downgrades while you are driving. Driving in snow is like driving in mud. Be mindful of your speed. Hitting the brakes can be the worst thing in the world when you drive on ice. If you hit the brake too hard, it can bring the back of the car around.”

Local governments have taken steps to mitigate the effects of the storm. The City of Troy and Pike County have closed government offices for Tuesday and Wednesday. Both Troy and Pike County have also issued states of emergency.