By Chris Kieffer, Lena Mitchell and Errol Castens / NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – As impressive as Monday’s heavy snowfall was for residents of Northeast Mississippi, the real danger could begin today.
With temperatures to remain below freezing for much of the week, the snow that melted Monday could quickly turn to ice, making roads even more treacherous.
“The roads are slushy and our fear is that it will start freezing and that will turn this snow into icy conditions and then we will really have problems,” Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said Monday afternoon.
The snow was plentiful. Tupelo tied for the most snow it has received in the last 70 years, with an official tally of six inches reported at the airport, according to the National Weather Service in Memphis. Unofficial reports had Tupelo’s snowfall as high as eight inches.
Some areas just north of Tupelo reported seven or eight inches, and Baldwyn received as much as 10 inches. Historical data was not available for areas of Lee County other than Tupelo.
“It didn’t break the all-time record at Tupelo,” said Ryan Husted, meteorologist with the NWS of Memphis. “However, it was pretty close depending on how far north you were.”
Ripley, Iuka and Falkner also reported at least 10 inches of snow.
Tupelo last saw this much snow on March 22, 1968, when six inches were also reported. Its record was set with eight inches on Jan. 24, 1940, according to the NWS.
Monday’s high totals came after an area of low-pressure moving from southern Texas combined with arctic air that moved into the area at about the same time. While Northeast Mississippi was getting snow, areas farther south were greeted with freezing rain.
The temperature is expected to reach as high as 35 this afternoon, Husted said. It will then drop to 16 tonight and remain below freezing until Friday, when a high of 37 is expected.
“The snow will stick around for a while,” Husted said.
Law enforcement officials said Monday that most of the problems they saw resulted from cars sliding off of roads rather than from collisions with other vehicles.
“With the snow on the ground, people are not traveling fast, so we’re not seeing a lot of damage,” said Trooper Ray Hall, spokesperson for the New Albany District of the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
Between about midnight and noon, Lee County deputies responded to calls of about 30 or 40 cars that had run off the road, Johnson said. The Highway Patrol responded to about 40 or 50 calls as of Monday afternoon, Hall said, including several accidents on U.S. Highway 78 near Blue Springs.
The northeastern counties of Alcorn, Prentiss, Tippah and Tishomingo had no serious weather-related accidents or problems, though sheriff’s offices also reported some motorists sliding off the slick roads.
“We’ve got most of our bridges salted down and cleared,” said Gary Ross, Alcorn County 4th district supervisor and board president.
A Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department spokesman said a half-dozen or so vehicles had slipped off roadways without injury or serious damage. Oxford Police Chief Mike Martin said only four wrecks as of mid-afternoon Monday had left damage to vehicles.
In Union County, Sheriff Tommy Wilhite said six to eight inches of snow were reported, but it was the initial sleet base that caused several minor wrecks Sunday evening.
A spokesman in the Pontotoc County Sheriff Department reported few if any significant wrecks on county or city roads.
Natchez Trace Parkway officials urged cars to avoid the parkway until all of the snow and ice has melted. They noted that the Trace becomes more dangerous during winter weather. The roads’ lower volume of cars and its high number of shadows created by trees means that snow and ice tends to melt more slowly there.
Area schools closed on Monday and many will remain closed today with growing uncertainty about when it will be safe for them to reopen their doors.
Among the schools closed today are Itawamba Community College and the Tupelo and Lee County districts.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or email@example.com.
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 842-2233 or firstname.lastname@example.org.