All of last night’s heavy, rapid snowfall reminded me of the heaviest snowfall I’ve ever experienced in Alabama, and it all happened six days before my wedding to boot! It was so beautiful but so messy and something so many in this area will never forget.
On Sunday, January 9th, 2011, a winter weather threat was looming. I keenly remember it being fairly obvious that our area would get some level of accumulation, though most people were not overly anxious about it. As usual, schools across town were closed Monday as a precaution.
If you’ve lived in this area for any amount of time, it’s annually “the norm” for many to get their hopes up for a “great” snowfall (i.e. at least one inch), only to wake up and see rain because the temperature was just a degree or two higher than expected.
I was a middle school English teacher at St. John’s at the time, living at home with my parents while my fiance was stationed in Arizona doing military training. Because I had to work through Wednesday of that week, I planned to drive separately from my parents to the beach for the wedding. They planned to leave Monday morning to do a big load of wedding prep, and I’d follow on Thursday.
On Sunday morning though, the threat was becoming a bit more onimous, and meterologists predicted that interstates would be a mess on Monday.
My parents needed to get down to the Destin area though in order to pull this wedding off (we had 100+ people scheduled to attend), so they took off mid-day Sunday to avoid any potential headache the following day.
At this point, we all still assumed we’d see an inch or two at maximum. This is Madison, Alabama after all. I’d lived here my entire life and had never seen more than two inches of snow (if that!) at a time.
I’ll never forget watching the first flurries begin to fall on Sunday night. They were so beautiful and were coming down rapidly.
And they didn’t stop for hours.
Nearly nine inches of snow fell that evening, shocking (and delighting!) the city. To this day, that snowstorm is the third-largest to ever hit the Huntsville area. WHNT reports that 17.1 inches fell on New Years Eve in 1963, with the second-largest snowstorm occurring on January 7th, 1988 with a recorded 9.5″.
Long story short, what was initially feelings of wonder at the beauty of the snowfall quickly turned into panic as the logistics of preparing for the wedding became complicated.
If you’re familiar with 8+ inches of snow, you know that it doesn’t melt quickly from just a few hours above freezing. It takes a while. Monday remained below freezing, but Tuesday saw a few short hours above freezing where some snow began to melt. The big problem came from the next freeze scheduled to hit Tuesday night into Wednesday morning that would then turn all of the newly-melted snow into a solid sheet of ice across Madison.
With school canceled for the remainder of the week, I knew I needed to do something (as my parents completely panicked down in Destin. We were all just in shock this was happening so out of the blue. When planning for a January wedding in the south, a huge snowstorm isn’t one of the variables you’re generally worried about!)
I managed to shovel myself out of my parent’s lengthy, uphill driveway on Tuesday afternoon before the next freeze (I’d never shoveled snow before and I can still vividly remember how on fire my back felt. Also, “I can use table salt to melt snow, right?”), packed my car, said a prayer as I slipped and slided out of our neighborhood down to Hughes Road, and gripped the wheel tight as I made my way down I-65.
By Thursday of that week, the temperature began to rise above freezing, bringing an end to the mass amounts of ice that covered our city. I had been so worried all week (rightfully so) that our guests from Madison wouldn’t be able to make it down to the beach for our wedding (I didn’t want to put anyone at risk), but every single person traveled down. I still feel indebted. 🙂 And boy, was that beach beautiful!
Now, when people say that it doesn’t snow in Alabama, I assure them that it SURE CAN, MY FRIEND. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s generally pretty magical (unless you’re getting married a few days later). 🙂
PS: Just a few short weeks before this snowstorm in 2011, Madison actually experienced a very unexpected, absolutely beautiful white Christmas on December 25th, 2010. We received 1-2″ overnight, which was pretty special for our city. That 2010-2011 winter was a doozy for north Alabama, but sometimes those wild experiences make for the best stories.