By Errol Castens
Light frost has already alit in small pockets of Northeast Mississippi, and forecasters expect even more effects of cold in much of the region late this week.
“You’re expected to have a freeze in Tupelo by Saturday morning,” said National Weather Service forecaster John Moore III, who is based in Memphis. “It’s early, but not super early.”
To be precise, a freeze this Saturday would be nine days ahead of Tupelo’s average first-freeze date of Nov. 4 but well within the nearly two-month window of variation between the records: The earliest freeze since modern weather recording began in 1930 was on Oct. 3, 1974, and the latest first freeze happened on Dec. 2, 1946.
None of the Mid-South is under a frost advisory or freeze watch yet, but that may change toward week’s end.
“We issue a freeze advisory or warning for the first freezing temperatures of the season,” said Moore, who has family connections to Okolona. As winter sets in, any frozen precipitation – usually well into December or later – would trigger alerts, as would temperatures low enough to burst pipes, freeze over livestock water sources or threaten the safety of poultry and pets.
“We issue a hard freeze warning if we expect the temperature to go below 20 degrees and stay there for a few hours,” Moore said. Ironically, Tupelo and its environs is in its longest-on-record period without any temperatures below 20 degrees.
Gary Bachman, Mississippi State Extension horticulturist and host of “Southern Gardening,” advises in an Extension publication that careful protection can help some warm-weather plants survive the first few freezes. With ground temperatures still several degrees higher, the warmth can be trapped around such plants.
“When a freeze is imminent, cover in-ground plants with plastic sheets, cloths, boxes or something similar,” Bachman advises. “Ideally, the foliage should not touch the covering. Last year, I used quick hoops to cover vegetable crops and protect them from potential cold weather damage.”
Richard Monroe, owner of the Garden Gin in Oxford, said pansies, flowering cabbage and even most mums should survive a mild freeze without significant damage. Monroe’s business focuses largely on permanent parts of the landscape. “Personally, I like to concentrate on plants that don’t ever need protecting,” he said.