January 17, 2013 12:42:18 PM
Jeff Clark - [email protected]
For the first time since January 2011, Lowndes County residents awoke to find significant snow accumulations, triggering school and business closings and causing multiple vehicle accidents throughout the Golden Triangle. Government offices remained open for the most part, although municipal court was canceled.
Approximately 1-3 inches were predicted to have accumulated in Columbus before the weather system moved out of the area during the early afternoon hours. Accumulations of up to 4 inches were expected in some areas. This morning, the National Weather Service said winter storm warnings were in effect for parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.
"This system was called an upper level low," said WCBI Meteorologist Maddie Kirker. "Traditionally, these systems bring large amounts of snow. It's a Southerner's best friend for snow. It brings in dry, cold air, which is what we need so the snow won't melt as it moves through. The snow is a bit wet. We aren't going to have dry snow in the South."
Kirker said the last upper level low blew through the area in January 2011 and dumped about six inches of snow in the Golden Triangle.
Although the upper level low did not produce much ice, large accumulations of snow created hazardous conditions for many drivers on Thursday morning.
"There have been multiple accidents," said Criss Turnipseed, public affairs officer for Troop G, Mississippi Highway Patrol. "Today is a good day to stay at home. It's not a day to go sightseeing. We're not used to driving in this and when your car starts to slip, you're going to panic and run off the road."
Sources said Highway 82 between Columbus and Starkville was the scene of numerous accidents this morning.
Columbus Police Department Public Information Officer Glenda Buckhalter said three accidents had been reported as of 9 a.m.
"People need to use extreme caution when driving today," Buckhalter said. "You have to take it easy. You can't drive like you usually would drive."
One of the more common instances for many motorists driving in winter conditions can be sliding, spinning or skidding in snowy patches. Lowndes County Sheriff Mike Arledge said his deputies had worked or received phone calls on more than 25 wrecks or accidents.
"We had to tow eight cars out of ditches or off the sides of the road by 9 a.m., " said Champions Towing owner Donnie Barksdale Jr. "We started getting calls about 4:30."
Bo Jarret, owner of Jarret's Towing, said he had been working calls since 5 a.m.
Winter storms can also mean a boost to the local economy as many residents scurry to buy household essentials such as bread and milk before the storm moves through.
"Our store has been very busy since Sunday," said Food Giant manager Terry Brownlee. "People started buying supplies when they heard it might snow. Our sales are up significantly from this time last year."
Most local schools including those in the Columbus Municipal School District, Lowndes County School District and Mississippi University for Women were closed Thursday.
Mississippi State University held classes but cautioned students and staff to stay at home if they felt uncomfortable driving.