Freezing rain, snow are possible tonight

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 6, 2010

From staff and AP Reports

Plunging temperatures have led local charities to prepare homeless shelters, spiked sales of gas for home heating and left Vicksburg schools ready to suspend Thursday classes.

Tuesday’s high was 36, with a low of 20. At 10:30 a.m., the temperature was 29 degrees. Freezing precipitation or snow is possible starting late tonight, forecasters said.

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As long as the harsh conditions last, River City Rescue Mission’s shelter at 3705 Washington St. will be open to “as many men as need it,” director Earnie Hall said. 

River City normally requires residents to join alcohol or drug treatment programs or return to the streets. Those restrictions will be suspended during the cold snap, Hall said.

“We have a program of recovery, but, in these conditions, we’ll be there for people no matter what,” Hall said.

The Salvation Army, 530 Mission 66, is offering vouchers for blankets and coats to people who could not afford them, Lt. JoAnn Frazier said. In addition, the Salvation Army provides hot meals through its Mission 66 diner.

Barbara A. Tolliver, executive director of the United Way of West Central Mississippi, said her agency would assist other charities “as needed” during the cold snap.  The United Way’s emergency contact number is 601-415-9676.

As the charities were preparing for the frigid conditions, local school officials remained undecided about closing classes because of the weather. 

A decision about whether to close local public schools will be made by 5 a.m. Thursday, based on road condition reports from transportation staff and local law enforcement agencies, Vicksburg Warren School District Superintendent Dr. James Price said.

Thursday is the day all public school classes are to resume after the Christmas break.

Area radio stations and TV channels will announce any cancellation, as will the district’s and The Vicksburg Post’s Web sites.

St. Aloysius High School Principal Michele Townsend and Porters Chapel Academy Headmaster Doug Branning said closure decisions for the city’s two largest private schools also would be made early Thursday morning.

News about any closures at St. Aloysius and Porters Chapel will be available on TV and radio, the principals said.

Meanwhile, deliveries of natural gas to home customers ran past midnight early today as residents anticipated icy conditions.

Craig Watkins, manager of Neill Gas, said the company received more than 300 calls for supplies before 9 a.m. on Monday.  “Our trucks have been running late,” Watkins said. “Everybody calls whenever we hear that there’s going to be snow or an ice storm.”

The weather is forecast to get colder around Mississippi as the week goes on.

Low temperatures could hit single digits in parts of the state with a possible wind chill of 0 degrees in north Mississippi by Friday.

National Weather Service meteorologist Ariel Cohen cited a 90 percent chance of snow in north Mississippi as early as tonight. Watch out for possible snow, sleet and freezing rain in central Mississippi late today and Thursday and showers in the south with a smaller chance of snow, he said.

Forecasters aren’t sure how much snow could fall. Cohen said it could be as much as 1-2 inches in north Mississippi.

Low temperatures could dip into the single digits Friday night in north Mississippi and the teens in other parts of the state, Cohen said. A strong Arctic front across the South could keep high temperatures from climbing above the teens and 20s.

“There will be the potential for dangerously cold wind chills — below zero across the north, single digits elsewhere and teens in the south,” he said.

“It could be messy to say the least. At this point a large part of the state could experience hazardous travel conditions but there’s still uncertainty” about how bad it will be.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation is preparing for ice on bridges and other hazardous conditions, said Donald Wash, a maintenance superintendent in the Jackson area. Trucks are ready to salt bridges and dozens of MDOT workers are on standby across the state, Wash said.

Shelters for the homeless and older residents without adequate heating opened Monday night across the state with more expected to do so over the next several days.

In Jackson, Cohen said there have been only nine times in the past 150 years with a string of days this time of year with high temperatures below 25 degrees.

The last time Tupelo recorded actual temperatures lower than 10 degrees was Jan. 24, 2003, when the mercury dropped to 7, according to the weather service.

Temperatures will “moderate” next week but it will still be cold with highs possibly reaching the 40s and 50s depending on the area, though lows could still dip into the lower 30s and 20s, Cohen said.