Southwest Mississippi residents will soon see something that has eluded them since last weekend — drivable roads.
Warmer temperatures and rain — in liquid form — were expected to thaw and wash away the icy encasement of asphalt throughout the region, although there is a slight chance of bridges and overpasses getting a new thin glazing early Thursday morning.
The news is welcome for people who have been stuck at home, in some cases without power or water, with supplies running low.
Two major traffic arteries were shut down Wednesday morning after they became difficult if not impossible to navigate.
A crash in northern Lincoln County shut down the southbound lanes of Interstate 55 near the Mount Zion Road exit.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation urged motorists to stay off I-55 from Bogue Chitto to the Copiah County line “until icy conditions improve.”
“MDOT crews will be monitoring highways and placing salt and slag on roadways to help lessen ice formation and increase traction. However, as temperatures drop down into the teens and single digits, salt becomes less effective and roadways could freeze,” an MDOT traffic advisory read.
Mississippi highway Patrol spokseman Trooper Craig James said motorists should avoid I-55 in Pike County as well.
“Ice has accumulated on all roadways and has caused a significant traffic jam,” he said. “Tractor-trailers are losing traction on inclines and becoming immobile, causing other passenger vehicles to become immobile as well.”
Stranded semis were blocking I-55 southbound in Lincoln County around mile marker 46, he said.
James also reported issues with travel on Highway 84 in Lincoln County as well.
Highway 98 from Bude to Summit remained impassable Wednesday morning as well, the MDOT reported.
As cars slid off roads in vain attempts to negotiate slickened streets, some wrecker crews were out trying to rescue imperiled drivers, while others were playing it safe and staying put — like drivers should have done to begin with.
Ricky Lewis of Lewis Wrecker said the liability and the driving conditions are risks too high to jeopardize his four employees and the equipment that keeps him in business.
There will be plenty of work left after the thaw, he said.
“There will be a bunch of cars that’s been left in the ditches that will need help getting out,” he said.
As of Wednesday, he wasn’t running himself ragged and letting other tow companies have the business of recovering vehicles affected by the ice.
“It’s not been for a lack of calls and it’s highly regrettable that we’re not able to help these folks in these conditions,” he said. “We shut our trucks down Sunday night because I cannot endanger our drivers and our equipment.”
Lewis said his crews have helped a bucket truck that got stuck not too far from his office, but other than that he’s been laying low.
“I’ve been in it 38 years, too, now. I’ve fought this stuff time and time again,” he said. “If they don’t have sense enough to stay off of a hockey rink, then you’re on your own.”
Lewis said he feels bad for stranded motorists and their vehicles, “but you have to be real.”
“Believe me, it hurt my soul,” he said.
But the good news is that the worst of the winter weather is about to be a thing of the past, Slidell, La.-based National Weather Service forecaster Phil Grigsby said.
Southwest Mississippi was under a new winter weather advisory on Wednesday morning, “but it’s more of a preemptive thing,” he said.
Wednesday afternoon’s forecast high temperature of 42 degrees was expected to provide enough warmth to thaw roads, and rain was expected to start falling in the afternoon through the evening, followed by near- to sub-freezing temperatures overnight.
Grigsby said the precipitation and overnight low could be enough to put a thin glaze of ice on bridges, but it’ll be nothing compared to what the area has experienced so far this week.
“There might be a little bit of a glaze, especially on bridges,” he said. “We will have some lingering precipitation late into the night there so we may have a change over of freezing rain late tonight and into the early morning hours.”
Road conditions were expected to be greatly improved by Wednesday afternoon, Grigsby said.
“They’ll probably improve today just because we’ll have the combination of rain and the temperatures up into the low 40s,” he said.
The biggest threat of road hazards will be on bridges around dawn Thursday, he said.
“There should be some additional concerns around daybreak tomorrow. It depends on how cold it gets,” Grigsby said. “Anything that does freeze around day break should melt rather quickly.”
Further to the south, the threat of severe weather and possible tornadoes remained likely for New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“Fortunately where you guys are, you’re going to be kind of stable so we’re not expecting a lot of severe weather,” he said. “Honestly with the winds that we’re expecting, I think by the afternoon (Thursday), that’s going to dry everything out.”