After one of the worst winter storms to impact the area in decades, warmer temperatures offered some much-needed relief to Itawamba County residents covered in the week-long blanket of ice and snow.
Saturday’s sunshine followed by Sunday night’s rainfall prompted the wintry mix to melt away after temperatures that dipped into low-teens kept it hanging on. For days, treacherous travel on highways and rural roads led to advisories and closings of district schools, businesses, and government offices.
Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT), District 1 Engineer Mark Holley of Tremont told The Times this type of event is something this area typically does not see and the task of battling back-to-back weather events was unparalleled.
“We had snow, ice, and sleet locked together as one component,” he said. “We were making progress, but the second event on Wednesday set us back to ground zero.”
In anticipation of the icy event, MDOT crews began to pre-treat lanes in major highways and began to plow as quickly as the event would allow. Many employees spent nights in MDOT shops and slept in their vehicles to attempt to stay on top of the increasing threat.
“Our crews started on Sunday when the freezing mist and fog started,” he said. “They were going with only 4 to 5 hours of sleep. It was a heroic effort.”
With the extremely low temperatures, Holley said even proactive measures like spreading salt don’t work like most think.
“When temperatures drop below 28 degrees, it takes the salt much longer to melt the ice,” he said. “It still works, just not as fast.”
In its 16 counties, District 1 maintains 5,625 lane miles not including ramps and intersections. MDOT’s efforts to get the roads done quickly were amped-up when Eutaw Construction crews of Aberdeen offered a helping hand.
“They had the equipment available and offered to help us out,” Holley said. “They did a great job and we are very appreciative of their efforts.”
With the snow and ice melted away and traveling the roadways back to normal, the weather event’s negative impact is just beginning.
“Next week, potholes will be everywhere,” Holley said. “We already know several sections that will be bad, like the Highway 45 and Highway 25 intersection. The time it takes for subgrades to show heavier cracks will depend on the traffic, especially heavy truck traffic. It will show up first on two-lanes with high traffic because all the weight is on that one lane.”
Looking ahead, Holley says MDOT crews will be inspecting roads to make note of the obvious potholes but also any growing cracks that could lead to more serious problems. Looking back, he says he’s proud of the efforts and sacrifices MDOT employees, their families, and many others made to get the area through the biggest weather event in years.
“My hats off to everyone, the utility workers, grocery store employees, emergency workers, all those out working who had a tremendous impact on our area,” he said. “I just hope it doesn’t happen again anytime soon.”