By Joe Rutherford and Errol Castens
Twenty years ago this week, a tree-shattering, line-snapping ice storm froze northern Mississippi, an epic weather event that left much of the region paralyzed and powerless for periods ranging from a few days to several weeks.
Twenty-six counties, including most of Northeast Mississippi, suffered major disruption in the Feb. 9-11 storm and 750,000 people at the height of impact were without electricity and drinkable water.
The estimated damage was $1 billion, comparable to a major hurricane.
The region sustained costly damage to timber assets, pecan trees and many private and public structures. Lush neighborhood and rural treescapes were devastated by the gunfire-like cracking of limbs and whole trees falling under the weight of the ice.
For days and weeks after, the sound of chainsaws could be heard everywhere, and debris piled high on neighborhood streets across the region.
The National Weather Service’s official narrative describes it as the “disastrous Mississippi ice storm of 1994.” Its track ran on a Greenville to Tupelo line.
Some accounts compared it to the late January/early February 1951 ice storm known in weather annals as the “southern glaze,” possibly the most powerful ice and snow storm ever to hit the South, extending from Texas to West Virginia, including northern Mississippi.
Some residents were without power for a month because of damage left to power transmission strucures by fallen trees and limbs.
The Daily Journal solicited memories of the storm from Northeast Mississippians. Here are some of the online responses to the question, “What do you remember about the 1994 ice storm?”
“Misery.” – Ron Cox, Oxford
“That heat pumps don’t 1⁄2 work.” – Elaine Vechorik, Starkville
“The drive down University going down the hill at 5 p.m. It was calm, quiet and no lights.” – Warren Neil Miconi, Oxford
“It was the winter before we moved here. People seemed to like having someone new to tell all their stories to!” – Kevie O’Haver, Abbeville
“31 days without power, then power came on and cable didn’t work for another two weeks…. didn’t miss cable as long as power was off, but when power came on it bothered me that cable didn’t work…..kinda funny.” – Timothy R. Burress, New Albany
“Was in Jackson, husband Larry in Oxford. He called to let me know what was happening and in the background I could hear the loud cracking noises as the tops broke and fell from our beautiful pine trees. Lost the trees, (but) house and hubby unscathed.” – Kay Cobb, Oxford
“I remember that the power went off at 2 a.m. at my house. Me, being weather conscious, woke my wife from a deep sleep to tell her of this development. She said, and I quote, ‘What the **%&$%$** should I do about that?’” – Eddie Bollinger, Bruce
“The beauty of a per se disaster – all that ice was a camera’s delight.” – Candy Price Williams, Harmontown
“Marvelous pioneer time! No power, no running water 18 days. With a toddler in diapers. Put water jugs in front of the fireplace overnight and had warm baths in a.m. in my galvanized wash tub. Oil lamps gave lovely light. Cooked in Dutch oven in the fireplace. It was actually a wonderful time!” – Leanna Lindsey Hollis, Blue Springs
“I was in the ninth grade, and our Valentine’s dance was canceled, and I was devastated! Lol.” – Amber Gholston, Fairview
“I was mayor of Pontotoc at the time. There were a lot of people that were understanding and had patience, as everybody was in the same situation. But there were a few that thought that they were special and wanted service at that very instance. Why do the clique (in-crowd) folks always think they are special and deserve to be at the front of the line? I did so appreciate the regular folks, because they did understand, worked with us and helped each other. Why is the world so mixed?” – Herman Austin, Pontotoc
“Thankfully, we lived close enough to a grocery store … to walk to it. They took us through the store with a flashlight to find what we needed. Trying to avoid falling down and dropping the groceries on the walk back home was an adventure. I was in school at Ole Miss. My roommates and I lived in some townhouses off of West Jackson in Oxford behind what was Bonanza. We had a great hill to slide down. It was fun until you were done, went back inside, and realized you were soaking wet, freezing, and had no heat to warm up. LOL!” – Deste Lee, Tupelo (Oxford in 1994)
“I remember opening my home to those without power for baths. One close friend was caring for sick relatives and helping her to have clean linen. The power for us was only off six hours and felt blessed to help people. Also remember the quick service of the city of Pontotoc and their dedication to clearing and keeping the people safe.
“My first thought was NO SCHOOL. I was teaching at North Pontotoc at the time. Did not realize the severity of the situation for the people of the county. Finally, reality stuck and I crept five miles out in the county to get my mom, an elderly widow. She stayed with us until spring because of the pipes that froze and burst during that time. My son’s birthday is Feb. 11, and that is a signal for the weather. As a youngster, almost every birthday saw a winter, showing that it does exist in Mississippi.” – Shelia Owen, Tupelo
“We could not get up on Hwy. 30.” – Vickie Stone Darnell, Oxford
“In north Calhoun County it was about a month before right-of-ways were cleared and electricity restored. Timber worth millions was lost in north Mississippi. I remember another (ice storm) in February of 1951 that matched the newer one. Nature has a way of showing us its power.
“The 1951 ice came on Feb. 3-4. I was inducted into the army on Feb. 7. I was awed by utility poles on the ground, trees down everywhere along Highway 51 to near Jackson. I had never imagined such destruction in my young life.” – Tommy Hallum, Calhoun City
“At the time of the ice storm I was raising pigs. The morning of the ice storm two sows had their babies out in the open and by the time I got to them about half of the piglets had frozen and about 10 were still alive, but barely. I had to ride my three-wheeler about a half mile through the woods to get to them. The whole way, limbs were breaking and falling around me. When I found the near frozen babies, I knew that I had to get them some warmth and thaw them out or they would die.
“ I unzipped my coveralls and put as many little pigs as would fit in and took them to the house. It took a couple of trips but I got all the live ones inside. I then put them in a cardboard box near the heater and left them to thaw. When they did thaw, they knocked the box over and ran all over the house. It took some looking under beds and every where to find them all. After several hours, I took them back to their moms and thus saved their lives.
“Other than my “pig adventure” and having to go to town to use a friend’s shower to get clean, the ice storm was pretty uneventful.” – Rick Carlisle, Water Valley
“17 days without water, electricity, heat or any service of any kind. Took three men with chainsaws to cut a path to mother’s house where she and her caregiver were trapped. All night and day I listened to the sound of my pine trees falling to the ground and knew that my finances were sustaining a huge loss. But in the midst of all this people like my friends Kathy Knight and Scott Knight collected food from our useless freezers and cooked and delivered to those in need. Sometimes it takes a disaster to bring out the best in people. Tonight I am praying that we do not have repeat of 20 years ago!!!!” – Kaye Hooker Bryant, Oxford