Once upon a time, in a snowstorm

Alabama Living Magazine
Illustration by Dennis Auth

Every southerner knows when the weatherman predicts 1/8 of an inch of snow, we head to the supermarket and buy more food than Admiral Byrd needed on his trip to Antarctica. Of course, two days later it’s 70 degrees, and all those leftover groceries end up in Blessing Boxes at local churches. No harm done.  

However, every now and again the forecasters make a big mistake that has major consequences. Those events get names – like  Snowmageddon. On January 28, 2014, the weather in central Alabama changed so fast, and was so bad, that it left motorists stranded and people stuck in their offices overnight.

I was one of them. I remember looking out my office window near downtown Birmingham and watching the whole mess progress. By mid-afternoon the streets began icing over. Heavy snow started falling. Immediately, vehicles began to slide on the gentle incline in front of our building. Unfortunately, by the time our CEO decided to let us go, it was too late. Nevertheless, some of my fellow employees foolishly made a mad dash for home.  They ended up sleeping in their cars and paying a chunk of money to a towing company.  

I knew I couldn’t make it. The last six miles to my house was a curvy, hilly, two-lane road, flanked by deep ditches. I would have about as good a chance of staying on that road as a drunk on New Year’s Eve.

Birmingham’s snow-clearing capability is pretty much Bubba with a pickup full of sand. Minneapolis it ain’t. So, it was going to be the next day before the roads were passable.

The sun set, and a couple dozen of us took stock of our situation. We had power, a large television in our meeting room, and the kitchen was decently stocked. It might not be home, but it wouldn’t be uncomfortable.

A cold darkness fell over the city.  We passed the time by talking, playing computer games, and watching the local news. Naturally, the weathermen were doing a great job of explaining why they totally whiffed on predicting the storm. By now, hundreds of motorists were stranded on the highways. We made a good decision to stay put.

Soon we realized we weren’t alone. Someone knocked on our door and said there was a school bus loaded with children stranded on a road near our office. I shuddered just thinking about what the bus driver and the teacher were experiencing. Several hours in a bus with about three dozen hungry, cold, scared kids is enough to make Billy Graham cuss.

We quickly herded all the children off that bus and into our warm building. There, they had food, a TV, and about a half dozen Aunt Bees doing everything to make them comfortable. We were even cutting the crust off their sandwiches. Within minutes, all the children had called their worried parents, while we switched the channel to “Sponge Bob Square Pants.”

With our new friends scattered throughout the office on sofas, chairs, and any spare pillows we could scrounge, I called it a night. I rolled up a towel for a pillow, and used an old car blanket for my cover. Then I cut off my office lights and crawled under my desk. Honestly, it was a lot like a Motel 6.

An early morning door knock by the police was our wakeup call. It’s amazing what a stranded bus full of kids will do to their sense of urgency. The children were herded into several vans fitted with snow chains, and off they went, continuing an adventure they undoubtedly still talk about today.

The morning temperature began to rise. By noon, the roads were somewhat passable, and one by one, we carefully headed for our homes.

Three days later, I played golf. Take that, Buffalo, New York! I never forget to thank God we live in the South, even if we just have Bubba with a pickup full of sand.

Joe Hobby is a standup comedian, a syndicated columnist, and a long-time writer for Jay Leno. He’s a member of Cullman Electric Cooperative and is very happy now that he can use Sprout from his little place on Smith Lake. Contact him at


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