ICE, SNOW FOLLOWED BY BITTER COLD
By Marty Russell
As falling ice and snow gave way to strong, gusty north winds and plummeting temperatures Friday afternoon, the focus on the weather in Northeast Mississippi shifted from fears of a repeat of the 1994 ice storm to concerns about the bitter cold temperatures entering the area.
By late Friday afternoon Arkansas had already issued a wind chill advisory as a strong cold front dipped into the South from Canada, bringing falling temperatures and wind gusts of up to 30 mph. The combination was expected to create wind chill factors as low as 20 degrees below zero today in Northeast Mississippi.
“Exposed skin can get (frost)bitten in less than a minute at those temperatures,” said Larry Boyd of the National Weather Service office in Memphis.
Anyone venturing outside should dress appropriately, covering as much of their skin as possible, and remember to bring pets inside.
Temperatures today weren’t expected to rise above 15 degrees with a low near 10. However, most of the freezing mix of precipitation had moved out of the area by late Friday afternoon and skies were expected to clear by late this afternoon.
Boyd said the earliest chance for above freezing temperatures could come Monday when temperatures were expected to rebound into the mid-30s. By Tuesday, highs in the 40s are forecast.
Much to the delight of Northeast Mississippians, the storm system that dumped about 3 inches of freezing rain, sleet and snow on the region failed to live up to its predecessor, the Ice Storm of 1994 that caused $83 million in public damages and $1.3 billion in damage to timber and crops in the northern part of the state.
In Tupelo, only scattered power outages were reported Thursday night and Friday, and most of those had been restored by late Friday, officials said.
“We had some trouble on the south end and east and on the north side of town, but the west side fared pretty well,” said Johnny Timmons, Water & Light Department director. “We had crews out all night (Thursday).”
Many of the newer developments on the west side of the city have underground power lines.
Timmons couldn’t say exactly how many customers lost power but said power was restored quickly when it did go out. He said most of the outages were caused by falling tree limbs broken by the weight of the accumulating ice.
“Most of it was pine limbs,” he said. “The oaks are hanging in there.”
Timmons credited a strong focus on pruning trees from the system’s primary lines since the 1994 storm for the lack of any widespread outages this time.
But the strong winds that moved into the area on the heels of the precipitation were expected to cause more problems because of falling limbs.
“If they’ll call us at 841-6460 we’ll dispatch a unit immediately,” Timmons said. “If it takes more than an hour, they can call us back and we’ll give them a tentative time when we’ll have it taken care of.”
In other parts of Lee County, electric customers didn’t fare quite as well. Doyle Young, office manager for Tombigbee Electric Co., said between 7,000 and 8,000 of its customers were without power Thursday night and early Friday morning in areas including Mooreville, Lake Piomingo, Nettleton, and the Richmond, Evergreen and Carolina communities.
“We’ve still got about 1,000 out, but we hope to get them back on before dark,” Young said Friday afternoon while snow was still falling outside. “I think we’ll get them on, but I hope the snow doesn’t bother us too much.”
The outages didn’t last long enough to prompt emergency personnel to open any shelters.
“There were some isolated outages but they were all restored in a short time,” said Joan Wilson, chairman of the Northeast Mississippi chapter of the American Red Cross. “But we are on standby in case we do need to open a shelter.”
BellSouth reported very few problems with telephone service, saying calls about lost service ran only about 25 to 30 percent above normal Thursday and Friday.
While staying warm didn’t seem to be a problem for most residents, getting from one place to another on ice-slickened roads took more effort.
David Oliver, a dispatcher for the Lee County E911 service, said his agency spent most of Friday escorting tractor-trailer rigs around the steep entrance ramp to U.S. Highway 78 at Belden.
“About the only trouble we’re having is the big trucks trying to get on 78 at Belden,” Oliver said. “They can’t make it up that steep slope and they’re jackknifing. We’ve been escorting them around Sherman.”
He estimated that between seven and 10 of the big rigs had failed to make it up the Belden entrance ramp to the highway.
Elsewhere in the county, drivers seemed to be staying home or exercising caution.
“I don’t even think we’ve had an accident,” said Baldwyn Mayor Robert Coggins, who said his town never lost power during the storm.
Nettleton City Clerk Bill Tapscott on the other end of the county also said motorists were playing it safe.
“I haven’t heard of any accidents,” Tapscott said. “There’s not a whole lot of traffic out.”
In Tupelo, at least two streets made impassable by the ice had been closed by late Friday. Boyd Yarbrough of the Public Services Department said crews had worked through the night scraping ice off roads and salting and putting gravel on bridges, but had to admit defeat on two sections.
The hill on Eason Boulevard from Green Street to Madison Street and another hill on Jackson Street between Spring Street and Foster Street will remain closed indefinitely until some of the ice thaws.
“We were trying to clean it and just gave up,” Yarbrough said of the Eason Boulevard hill. “It was too slick. We couldn’t break the ice.”
He said crews and equipment, including three snow plows, four backhoes and two road graders, would continue to work around the clock to keep major intersections cleared but said it did not do much good to try and scrape the ice off other sections of the roads.
“We’re really concentrating just on the intersections so cars can stop for the signals and make the turns,” Yarbrough said. “If you just scrape off the ice you still have a layer of moisture left that just freezes and becomes slick. What we really need is some sunshine.”