Winter Storm Leon I-65 South
I-65 South at 8 a.m.
An 18-wheeler was backsliding on the on-ramp to Red Mountain Expressway.
Two cars in front of me, it was the threat to my lifeline—the one lane unblocked that could possible get me home. I had been cool and collected for the first hour and a half it had taken me to travel what usually takes a minute, but sitting on that ramp, I, never ever a nail biter, found my nails in my mouth.
What happened next was eerie. As I passed the truck at last, the expressway headed toward downtown Birmingham was practically empty. The other side was a gridlock.
At the time I had no clue that my 3 ½ hour trip home on Jan. 28, with relatively little sliding on ice, would be a rare exception. My dad spent the night at his office downtown, my mom drove then walked then rode in a police car and then caught a ride with a neighbor, friends couldn’t pick up their infants from day care, the highway near my neighborhood felt like the apocalypse with the abandoned cars that lined it.
My roommate and I felt guilty at home, like we should be doing something to help all the people stranded, but we had no clue how to do that. Instead, we checked in with loved ones to encourage them on their journeys and embraced the beautiful side of the day with a sled and neighbors who joined us on a hill with a canoe.
News of strangers helping strangers, neighbors helping neighbors continued to flood into my quiet house that night—all of us on a level playing field, our lives halted for the sake of seeking simple safety and warmth. As the craziness of the day’s events churned in my head, one of my favorite song writers was playing on the stereo, reminding me of a more firm grounding than cars and roads and beds: “When the fields are dry and the winter is long/Blessed are the meek, the hungry the poor/ When my soul is downcast, and my voice has no song/ For mercy, for comfort, I wait on the Lord… My lot, my cup, my portion sure/ Whatever comes, we shall endure/Whatever comes we shall endure.”Executive Editor Jeff Thompson shares a personal account of the events of Winter Storm Leon.