Deep South deep freeze thaws today

I'm a journalist focused on government, policy, politics and people.
I find what matters and bird dog it like nobody's business.

djournal-weather-winterBy Robbie Ward, Errol Castens and JB Clark

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Most of Northeast Mississippi awoke Tuesday with temperatures in single-digit readings.

Tupelo reached 7 degrees, Corinth bottomed out at 5 and Oxford went all the way to 4, according to National Weather Service readings. Although they were the lowest temperatures in the area on any date since at least 1996, the record low for the date was minus 2 degrees, set in 1912, according to meteorologist Zach Maye of the National Weather Service in Memphis.

Forecasters expect the weather to warm above freezing today for the first time since Sunday, but a taste of treacherous weather could return tonight.

“There could be some light freezing rain,” said Kati McNeil, also an NWS-Memphis forecaster. “This is going to be really light precipitation.”

As a weak upper-level disturbance crosses the region tonight and Thursday morning, precipitation ahead of it will fall through the Arctic air already in place. Temperatures will likely be in the upper 20s to low 30s tonight, but by noon Thursday the area is expected to be above freezing, with precipitation changing over to all rain. Precipitation amounts appear light, but enough to possibly make travel hazardous, according to Weather Service reports.

Monday night’s cold affected some customers of Tombigbee Electric Power Association and Tupelo Water & Light.

Bill Long, Tombigbee EPA’s general manager, said about 3,000 customers in the company’s service area including Mooreville, Eggville and the Auburn community were affected between early Monday evening and 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. Another 50 residential customers in scattered areas had outages during a two-hour period Tuesday morning.

“They weren’t all out that long,” Long said. “Some had outages for a half-hour or so.”

Tupelo Water & Light Superintendent Johnny Timmons said the severe cold caused a water main to break at 2 a.m. Tuesday on South Green Street just south of Gloster Street.

“The pipe just snapped,” Timmons said.

TW&L was one of several electric utilities that experienced scattered outages attributed to the cold.

Timmons said that as ice begins to thaw, some residents will have water leaks from broken pipes. He said residents who anticipate burst pipes can call TW&L to have their water temporarily turned off to prevent flooding or excessive water flow until repairs are made.

Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley said natural gas utilities experienced low pressure in Tupelo and DeSoto County for a short times on Tuesday.

“It was just a little bit of a system overload,” he said.

Pontotoc County Emergency Management Director Rickey Jaggers said Mud Creek Water Associations in northwest Pontotoc County put customers on notice due to problems caused by the extreme cold.

“They had a pump control panel freeze up, so it dropped pressure on the system,” Jaggers said. “They issued a precautionary boil-water notice to their customers.” Mud Creek Water Association No. 1 and No. 2 have a combined customer base of about 1,850.

At Mississippi State University, freezing of fire suppression systems caused extensive damage in Ruby Hall, university spokesman Sid Salter said. Oak Hall and Magnolia Hall, the campus’ two newest housing facilities, were impacted. Officials expect the damage to affect some 450 of the 4,000 students who live on campus.

The extended freeze has kept many Lee County firefighters busy. Tupelo Fire Chief Thomas Walker said his department responded to three fires between Monday and Tuesday and many more alarm calls.

“The lower (the temperature) gets and the longer it stays this way, the worse it will be as far as fires and burst lines go,” Walker said.

“We had a fire on Eckford Street that was a wiring issue,” he said. “And a fire at Pizzazz on West Main Street that involved using a heater to thaw out a water line. The heater got too close and caught the wood on fire.” Walker said none of the damage was major thus far.

The fire department was dispatched to multiple calls involving sprinkler lines bursting. When the sprinkler lines burst, a flow alarm is triggered and the fire department is notified.

In Guntown, firefighters fought two fires between Monday and Tuesday, both total losses. Guntown Fire Chief David Wood said the investigation into the causes of the two fires in incomplete but fires involving space heaters are common this time of year.