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December 27, 2012

Lingering ice could prove hazardous

The Arctic blast that visited Cullman County the day after Christmas may give way to above-freezing temperatures today, but weather watchers caution travelers to be on the lookout for lingering ice on local roadways before lunchtime.

The National Weather Service office in Huntsville advised there'd be no additional accumulation of winter precipitation overnight, but warned that residual moisture left over from the heavy downpour the area received Christmas evening could re-freeze in patches on local roads.

In particular, the NWS cautioned drivers to watch for patchy slick spots this morning on elevated surfaces, such as bridges and overpasses. those spots could remain hazards until the thermometer climbs above the freezing mark, likely by mid-morning today.

More moisture is expected Friday, but daytime temperatures in the mid-50s coupled with evening lows in the high 30s should prevent additional winter hazards from forming for the rest of the week.

Torndoes in South Alabama

In Mobile, residents of old neighborhoods ripped apart by Christmas Day tornadoes wrapped up in coats and pulled on gloves for warmth Wednesday, the sound of screaming chainsaws replacing the scary roar of tornadoes that left damage scattered across much of Alabama.

With only a handful of injuries and no deaths reported statewide from the storms, the head of the state’s emergency response said it was difficult to fathom how the toll wasn’t worse.

“I think we had a lot of tornadoes that were capable of producing damage. We’re just very fortunate this morning for whatever reason that it wasn’t worse,” Art Faulkner, director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, said after surveying storm-tossed areas in Mobile. It was the second time in five days a twister hit Mobile; a small tornado left damage along a trail 7 miles long on Dec. 20.

Alabama Power Co. said storms affected more than 47,500 customers, but power was restored in most areas outside the hardest-hit parts of Mobile, where falling limbs from massive hardwoods snapped power lines and covered streets. Many people spent the night in cold, dark houses and temperatures dipped into the 40s after the storms passed.

The tree-lined neighborhoods near downtown Mobile took the worst hit statewide: A twister slammed into Murphy High School and heavily damaged a historic church, leaving neighborhoods littered with trees and debris from damaged homes. The weather service said the damage was caused by a small twister that hit near downtown Mobile.

But damage was widespread across Alabama: The weather service reported structural or tree damage in about 15 counties, and Faulkner said preliminary reviews found six counties with several dozen damaged homes total. The weather service said trees were knocked down as far north as the Tennessee Valley, about 340 miles north, and a mobile home park was hit hard near Troy in Pike County, about 185 miles northeast of Mobile.

A damage assessment by forecasters showed an EF-1 tornado with winds up to 100 mph struck Marengo County near Demopolis, hurting no one but destroying two mobile homes and damaging a dozen houses along a path nearly 6 miles long and 500 yards wide.

With only one person known hospitalized — a man whose mobile home was destroyed in the Pike County twister — Faulkner said the low number of casualties might be a result of the skittishness many people still feel because of the killer storms of April 2011, when tornadoes killed about 250 people statewide.

“I think people, with it still being as close as it is to the spring 2011 storms, took this seriously,” Faulkner said.

Temperatures were near 70 before Christmas, but the storms preceded a blast of cold air that dropped afternoon highs into the 40s and 50s statewide. Winds gusted to near 40 mph in areas and snow flurries fell in spots, making it feel that much colder.

Associated Press writers Melissa Nelson-Gabriel and Jay Reeves contributed to this report.

Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at bbullard@cullmantimes.com or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.

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