Meridian Star

January 7, 2010

<FONT COLOR="#ff0000"> <B> WINTER WEATHER BLOG </B> </FONT>


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Reporter Byron Wilkes will begin filing dispatches from the Meridian Emergency Operations Center at 7 a.m. on weather conditions. E-mail Wilkes at bwilkes@themeridianstar.com. Send photos or comments to twitter.com/meridianstar, The Meridian Star Facebook Fan Page, or e-mail editor@themeridianstar.com.



1-8-10, 8:05 a.m.: Road conditions are clear and no travel problems are being experienced by either patrol officers of the MPD or deputies from the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department. Officials say the cold, brisk and dry air did much to dry up the roadways before any serious freezing could've occurred.



7 p.m.: Sorry folks for the maintained radio silence. No further calls were made to the EOC, and winds are expected to partially dry roads and sidewalks unless more precipitation falls. Temperature lows are expected to be in the single digits, so freezing is very possible.



Right after my last update, I hopped in a LEMA truck with director David Sharp to investigate possible sleet in northern Lauderdale County. We didn't see any sleet, but we did hear a report for a missing high school student with Down's syndrome.



For the next few hours I hit the field on that, but kept checking in with Sharp to make sure no emergencies associated with the wintry weather occurred. Fortunately, they didn't.



Make sure to check your driveways, sidewalks and roadways before driving tonight and tomorrow, and report any emergencies to the proper authorities immediately. Read more about the missing student by picking up Friday's edition of The Meridian Star.



3:15 p.m.: Still no calls concerning weather.



The precipitation is still tapering off in Lauderdale County, which means falling temperatures will bring moisture on roads and sidewalks closer to freezing.



Representatives from agencies joke to kill the time, a few take cat naps, but there are always people watching the TV screens and handling the phones, even when someone calls and it turns out to be a wrong number.



I'll try and get a radar picture of where the end of the precipitation is right now. According to http://radar.weather.gov/radar.php?rid=dgx, it's approximately halfway between Jackson and Meridian as of this update.



2:30 p.m.: The Key Chapter of the American Red Cross is reporting that all roads and bridges are currently clear of ice in Lauderdale, Neshoba, Newton, Kemper, Scott, Clarke and Leake Counties.



2:20 p.m.: Just learned that all Weems Community Mental Health Centers will be closed on Friday.



2 p.m.: Current temperature on the roof of the EOC is 35 degrees.



The slight increase is due to falling precipitation rates, and John Baxter of the National Weather Service reassessed moisture freezing to begin between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. The wind chill advisory for tonight is zero degrees.



EMCC will make a decision on whether it will close down campuses between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., according to EMCC President Rick Young.



1:24 p.m.: Just learned that St. Patrick's School will be closed due to the weather.

Meridian Community College will be open Friday, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. According to MCC President Scott Elliott, staff will be available to assist students needing financial aid and/or counseling services or desiring to register, make payments to the Business Office or purchase books.



Lauderdale County Annex and Courthouse will close at 3 p.m. Business as usual on Friday, unless changes in weather conditions.



Update in case you missed it earlier:

Meridian and Lauderdale County public schools will be closed. In addition, all local Headstart centers and daycare facilities will be closed Friday.







1:15 p.m.: The current temperature on the EOC is 33 degree, one degree above freezing.



John Baxter of the National Weather Service said earlier in the press conference that here in Meridian, "we're two degrees from being terrible, two degrees from warmer weather." Baxter suspects that because the beginning of the cold front is still coming through, freezing temperatures won't take hold of the county until 2 or 3 p.m.



I spoke with Neal Carson, the Lauderdale County Engineer, on the phone, and he said the road department will be waiting before they take action on county roads.



Interestingly enough, the county does not use salt like the city. Instead they use limestone powder, and only on hills that absolutely need it.



So far no severe incidents concerning the have been reported to the EOC.





12:30 p.m.: Lauderdale County offices will be closed after 3:30 p.m. today, but employees will conduct business as usual unless otherwise decided.



The East Mississippi Community College in Scooba's administration is holding a conference call with its branches to decide whether it will close down all branches tomorrow. Keep checking in for more updates.





12:15 p.m.: Meridian Community College faculty and students will not come to campus until classes begin next week. Administrative staff will attend as per usual.



11:40 a.m.: Both Meridan and Lauderdale County schools will be closed tomorrow. Due to icy road conditions, buses will not be able to drive safely to transport students.



11:36 a.m.: National Weather Service officials speculate if temperatures don't get above freezing Saturday night, roads will stay frozen Sunday.



If cloud cover doesn't leave before tonight, Lauderdale County could see dusty snow in addition to more ice.



11:30 a.m.: County schools will be closed tomorrow.



11:26 a.m.: City schools will be closed tomorrow.



11:25 a.m.: John Baxter of National Weather Service has begun addressing conference.



Northern facing sidewalks and roads will be "most susceptible" to re-freezing, depending on evaporation and precipitation.



Bridges and overpasses will dangerous as well; other roads will be patchy with ice.



11:20 a.m.: There is a hard freeze warning for tonight. Lows tonight will be in the teens. Winds will get lighter Friday and Saturday (10-18 degree lows; mid-20s to lower-30s highs).



By late afternoon, temperatures will drop to 20s in this area. Strong possibility of water re-freezing in the morning.



Don't expect temperatures to get above freezing once they dip below freezing.



Central Mississippi, including Lauderdale County, expected to be "bitterly cold."



11:15 a.m. Areas north of Meridian experiencing freezing rain and sleet. Cold front to continue going through in the next hours.



11:10 a.m.: Starkville, West Point and Columbus experiencing moderate to heavy snow.



Cold winds expected to blow from north to south. After this system passes through, it will become very cold and windy.



11:05 a.m.: Director David Sharp of LEMA is initiating the conference call.



Others in the room are:



-City of Meridian Homeland Security Director Tim Miller

-Sheriff Billy Sollie

-Police Chief Lee Shelbourn

-Fire Chief Anthony Clayton

-American Red Cross Key Chapter Director Susan Wehr



11 a.m.: The temperature is 30 degrees on the roof of the EOC. John Baxter of the National Weather Service said that the cold front is passing through right now: "It's all downhill from here."



Continue to use extreme caution in driving, as icy conditions will become severe in the near hours.



10:45 a.m.: The weather conference call will take place in 15 minutes, but before it starts I decided to talk with Anthony and Tracey Stinson, a husband and wife pair who are both volunteers at the EOC today.



"When you're on the scene, married or not married doesn't play a big part in it," Anthony said. "You know what you've got to do and you do it."



Tracey is an emergency medical responder, so she often responds to injuries before ambulances arrive, including those of firefighters.



"Sometimes you can help people and sometimes you can't," Tracey said. "But it's a good feeling knowing you did what your best."



Anthony and Tracey spoke with me earlier about the misconceptions the public has about volunteers. They say it is much more complicated than just walking in and wanting to volunteer, and their credentials prove this. Both Anthony and Tracey have undergone certification to best equip them with the knowledge and skills needed to help people.



Today they will be fielding overflow emergency phone calls to the EOC, which are expected to pick up in the afternoon and later tonight. Residents of the county can be rest assured the men and women at the EOC are capable, qualified individuals.



Be sure to keep checking the blog for updates. The conference call will take place shortly.



10:15 a.m.: I got off the phone with Meridian City Public Works moments ago and a secretary told me that they will wait to start salting roads in the city until ice begins to accumulate and become visible.



Baxter of the National Weather Service said to expect roads to start icing over in the next one to two hours. Roads at an angle will ice over more quickly, particularly roads with an angle facing the north.



Exercise extreme caution while driving in the coming hours.



9:45 a.m.: I spoke with weather wizard John Baxter of the National Weather Service, and his forecast was certainly more frigid than anticipated.



According to Baxter, we've already seen the high temperature for the day and as rain continues to fall, temperatures will drop and moisture falling in the air and accumulated water on the ground will begin to freeze.



This means rain has already started turning to sleet, and snow could start falling around 2 p.m. or 3 p.m., sooner than expected. Baxter said when nightfall comes a hard freeze will most likely keep road conditions icy into the morning.



Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa chatter jovially to an empty room next to me while city and county officials dutifully monitor radar progressions of precipitation over Lauderdale and neighboring counties on a series of four TVs.



A conference call on the weather will take place at 11 a.m. at the county EOC where I've moved. I'll be updating live as it occurs.



9:15 a.m.: LEMA officials just began spreading salt at the entrance of the EOC, which means conditions are prime for dangerously icy roads and sidewalks. I almost gained the dubious privilege of becoming the first injury trying to snap a photo outside.



Susan Wehr of American Red Cross and I spoke about what sort of disaster relief it can provide in ice storms and what to do if you find yourself. Wehr directs the Key Chapter, which includes Lauderdale, Clarke, Kemper, Neshoba, Scott, Leake and Newton Counties.



"If [the weather] tears down their power, they should call the Red Cross and we'll let them know when the shelter will be open," Wehr said.



Those who require emergency assistance because of the weather can call the EOC at 601-485-1826, where their call will be directed to the appropriate agency. Check back for more details throughout the day.



9 a.m.: Sleet has been reported. Patrol units reporting on Old 8th Street Road in Meridian sleet is falling. Motorists are urged to exercise caution when driving.



8:55 a.m.: According to the Lauderdale County Emergency Management Operations Center minutes ago officials in Neshoba County were reporting overpasses and some roadways were seeing freezing conditions. Officials with the LEMA said the temperatures in Neshoba County are at 32 degrees and falling. Officials report the freeze line has entered Lauderdale County and motorists are advised to pay strict attention to the road conditions



8:15 a.m.: According to some weather reports, rain will persist, changing to snow about 5 p.m. There's about a 60 percent chance of that change. At least for now, but things constantly change.





8 a.m.: I just sat down with David Sharp, director of the Lauderdale Emergency Management Agency, and asked him a few questions about what to expect from the weather this morning and later today.



Sharp told me that temperatures didn't drop quite as "low as we expected last night, so that's good for this morning." He also said that cold rain and sleet are possible this morning, though, so take precaution when driving.



In Sharp's words: "Tonight might be the worst of the whole thing."



Because the rain has slowed down in getting here, it might be noon or mid-afternoon before temperatures possibly drop below freezing. LEMA is conducting "business as usual" until temperatures and weather conditions change.



7:15 a.m.: County agencies are still in the process setting up at the Emergency Operations Center here on 26th Avenue.



During my drive over here from my apartment, light rain began to drizzle as Karen Brown on Mississippi Public Radio gave me a debriefing about what to expect from the weather throughout the day.



3 a.m.: It appears much of this may be "radar-only" data and not actual precipitation that is hitting the ground. But, for what it's worth, here's a screen shot of the latest radar from weather.com. We will keep you posted if anything of interest happens before 7 a.m.



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2:45 a.m.:



Radar is indicating a large area of wintry precipitation — stretching from Union south to Rose Hill — moving east across the area.

Here's the look at the 2:45 a.m. radar from weather.com



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