- Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Gov. Robert Bentley said forecasters were plain wrong about the winter storm that brought Birmingham to an icy, messy halt, but he discouraged people from playing the blame game.

“We go by what the National Weather Service says and they probably missed it by 150 miles, but no one really knows. It’s no one’s fault,” Bentley said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday.

The winter storm gave the Birmingham area a surprise wallop Tuesday stranding 11,000 students at public schools, causing chaos on roads that weren’t treated for ice and leaving thousands of cars abandoned and many wrecked.

Angry parents vented on social media and talk radio about meteorologists who blew the forecast by predicting central Alabama would get only a trace of snow and experience no travel problems.

Bentley said people shouldn’t blame meteorologists if prediction models failed.

But unlike Atlanta, where there was much finger pointing among public officials, Alabama leaders mostly said people did the best they could.

In Montgomery, a Birmingham Democrat even took to the Senate floor to praise the Republican governor for directing help to Jefferson County once the storm shifted north.

“The governor should get kudos for what he’s doing in this situation,” said Sen. Rodger Smitherman. “The moment it hit, they started shifting things back to our county.”

In Atlanta the National Weather Service contended its forecast was “spot on.” The Weather Service had acknowledged problems with the Alabama prediction, but said it always tried to stress the uncertainty of the storm.

The Alabama forecast had initially predicted snow and ice in the lower half of the state, approximately 75 miles south of Birmingham. The Alabama Department of Transportation sent salt, brine and trucks south of Birmingham.

“We didn’t think above Clanton that there would be much of anything, at least by the weather forecast,” Bentley said.

A revised forecast was issued at 9 a.m., about an hour before snow started falling. A warning came at 11 a.m. and by that time roads were inundate with people trying to get home.

“That morning we watched the news and they said nothing, maybe a light dusting,” said Kelly Davis, director Homewood Day School, a preschool at the Homewood Church of Christ.

By the time they got notice of public school closings, roads were already becoming impassable, she said.

Forty children, including five infants, spent Tuesday night at the daycare with teachers when their parents were unable to get there. Davis said one father trudged nine miles through the snow to spend the night with his children.

Davis said her husband and a worker walked through the snow to buy formula, diapers and food for the babies.

“I was just so impressed of how everybody stepped up and helped,” she said.

Attention turned Thursday to clearing the thousands of cars that were left wrecked and abandoned on roadways.

“It’s like cars dropped out of the sky and landed everywhere,” Steven Weil, manager of Weil Wrecker in Birmingham.

“We’ve seen cars on top of a guard rails, cars off in ditches turned over, cars on top of one another, cars everywhere,” Weil said.

Tommy Holmes of Leeds on Thursday went to retrieve his car off the side of Interstate 20 in Leeds. But the snow and ice had melted into a muddy mess that kept his car stuck.

“The snow and ice, I survived that ordeal. What got me stuck was the mud,” Homes said.

A state trooper and the Alabama National Guard helped pull his car free.

The Alabama Department of Transportation said road conditions had dramatically improved, but drivers were still urged to be careful and on the lookout for remaining icy patches.

Hoover Police Capt. James Coker said people needed to be extra cautious during Friday morning commutes. Temperatures were expected to get below freezing again Thursday night.

Some in Birmingham continued to marvel at the epic ice storm that paralyzed the area.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve been in Alabama my whole life,” Holmes said.

AP writers Phillip Rawls and Jay Reeves contributed from Montgomery.

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