By Errol Castens
TUPELO – Northeast Mississippians could see wintry precipitation and the region’s coldest weather in years in the next few days.
Light snow is possible Sunday night as heavy moisture meets a strong cold front, and single-digit temperatures – possibly lower – are expected for most of the region on Sunday and Monday nights. Temperatures likely will stay below freezing for 72 hours or more.
“That air (in the cold front) is extremely cold. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it,” said Ben Schott, a National Weather Service forecaster in Memphis. “We haven’t seen temperatures like this at least since February of 1996.”
One initial danger will be slick roads. Light rain is expected just before the cold front pushes in.
“Wet roadways will freeze very quickly on Sunday afternoon,” Schott said. “That cold front is going to come through late morning to early afternoon. With the little bit of rain that comes before it, there won’t be much drying time. … Roads that aren’t treated are going to become very slick.” Snowfall – an inch or less is expected in Northeast Mississippi – could worsen the lack of traction.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency urges motorists to check antifreeze levels, batteries, lights, brakes and heaters/defrosters and to keep at least a half tank of fuel. Mississippi Highway Patrol Trooper Joe Miller suggests a few other driving preparations.
“Throw a blanket in your car and make sure your cellphone is charged before you leave,” he said. “Watch out for everybody else on the road, and make sure somebody knows where you’re going and when you expect to arrive.”
Extreme cold means people take more risks to stay warm.
“Careless or improper use of heating sources continues to be a leading cause of fire deaths in the state,” said State Fire Marshal Mike Chaney. “The last six fire deaths investigated by the Mississippi State Fire Marshal’s Office in 2013 were heating related. … Working smoke alarms can cut the risk of people dying in home fires in half.”
Plumbing also could be at serious risk of freezing and bursting.
David Shaw of Sneed’s Ace Hardware in Oxford suggests getting wind off exposed hydrants with devices as simple as buckets filled with insulation. He added that split foam pipe insulation is easy to apply, and kitchen or bathroom faucets on an outside wall may be helped simply by opening the cabinet doors to expose them to warm air.
Shaw also suggested private well owners put a small incandescent lightbulb in pumphouses.
“You’re not trying to get it warm, just to keep it above freezing, so just a little heat can make that difference,” he said.
If pipes freeze despite preparations, Shaw urged homeowners to cut off water at the meter or at the well before it has time to thaw.
“Don’t do anything drastic trying to thaw it,” he added, noting that hair dryers are safer for such use than torches.
Dr. Marie Powell of Tupelo Veterinary Hospital said outdoor pets need special consideration during extreme freezes.
“If there are drastic drops in temperature as we are about to see – and add to this wind chills and dampness – it would be wise to bring your pet indoors,” she said. “Otherwise, be sure to offer well-insulated housing, plenty of bedding such as blankets or hay, a good-quality diet (even warm food) and ensure that they have access to unfrozen drinking water several times a day.”