CULLMAN, Ala. — A traffic jam that extended at least eight miles on Interstate 65 in Alabama, forcing hundreds of motorists to camp in vehicles overnight after a rare Southern snowfall, finally cleared Friday as rising temperatures melted remnants of the freeze.
Some questioned whether road officials were caught flat-footed by a winter storm that had been predicted for days, but the state Highway Department denied being unprepared.
Hundreds of people spent a cold night trapped on I-65 north about 50 miles north of Birmingham after snow fell on the Southeast and caused at least one death in Mississippi.
The motorists got stuck in Cullman County after a series of wrecks and vehicles lost traction on a hilly stretch called Lacon Mountain. One of those trapped was Bob Bentley, a lawyer who spent nearly 14 hours in his Prius before he could begin moving again at 4 a.m.
“I played a lot of ‘Words with Friends.’ I found some old food under the seat, some old Christmas pretzels. I listened to all the NPR programs twice,” he said. “It was awful.”
Bentley said people turned off their cars and sat because there was nowhere to go, and people were getting out of their vehicles, building snowmen, and walking to the edge of the woods to relieve themselves.
Cindy Parker, who works at a Shell gasoline station just off I-65 in Cullman, said a steady stream of frustrated motorists stopped to buy food, get directions, and vent.
“Weather like this is so unusual for us, they don’t realize that the hills and bridges between Birmingham and Huntsville will get so icy,” she said.
Skies were sunny and temperatures in the 40s by midday Friday. The highway traffic was flowing freely, but abandoned and wrecked cars littered the roadside, along with melting snowmen.