By BRIAN HAWKINS
Questions of whether the greater Starkville area will see snow and ice today and tomorrow became increasingly moot late Saturday after National Weather Service meteorologists in Jackson issued a winter storm warning for much of Mississippi.
The winter storm warning was issued late Saturday afternoon. The warning also includes much of Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee.
Oktibbeha County Emergency Management Director Jim Britt said Saturday that he has been in continual contact with state emergency management and NWS officials in Jackson about the approaching weather system, which is tracking along a low pressure front over Mexico and into the northern Gulf of Mexico.
If the front stays on its current track, the Starkville area will see significant sleet snowfall today, tonight and tomorrow.
“We’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” said Britt by phone Saturday evening. “We’re going to have some winter precipitation. It’s not a question of whether we’re going to get it, but more a question of how much.”
Should the low pressure system move to the north a bit, sleet and freezing rain a more likely, significantly increasing the risk for ice, Britt said.
Current forecasts are calling for a mixture of snow and sleet to begin falling sometime around mid-morning to midday today, with increasingly heavy snowfall throughout the day and into the nighttime hours.
Accumulations between 4 and 8 inches are forecast, with a snow/sleet mix continuing into Monday morning with a chance for light snow Monday night.
Brisk east to northeast winds between 10 and 25 mph are also expected, which, combined with any snow or ice accumulations, could result in some power interruptions and make travel in the affected areas difficult.
“Sustained winds of 15 to 20 mph and gusts of 30 mph and higher, combined with frozen precipitation, will likely mean that there are some power outages,” Britt said Saturday night. “People need to prepare for that.”
City, county and state road crews are prepared to respond to handle hazardous road conditions, particularly on bridges and overpasses, Britt said. Travel Sunday night will be dangerous and is discouraged unless absolutely necessary, Britt said.
“We’re looking for our roads to freeze over and be pretty treacherous. Folks don’t need to get out in this stuff unless they have to,” Britt said. “Even if the daytime temperatures rise above freezing for a bit and some of this stuff starts to melt off, it will refreeze again at night and be just as dangerous.”
Local utility crews are also ready to respond, officials said.
But the likelihood of any significant melting over the next two days is minimal if forecast models hold true.
NWS forecasts show high temperatures today and Monday at or slightly above the freezing mark, with nighttime low temperatures in the 20s. High temperatures Tuesday and Wednesday are forecast in the mid- to upper 30s.
“It’s going to get cold and stay cold for a few days,” Britt said.
Should a widespread power outage occur today and tonight, Oktibbeha-Starkville Emergency Response Volunteer Services (OSERVS) volunteers were making preparations to open a shelter and feeding center at downtown area churches.
Both city and county school officials and Mississippi State University officials urged students, faculty and staff to pay attention to local media reports, their respective websites and electronic messaging for notification on any school cancellations Monday.
Residents are reminded to have plenty of non-perishable food, water and other necessary supplies, including medications and batteries for flashlights and radios, in case of a prolonged power outage.