TUPELO • There were around 100 18-wheelers stacked up east of Fulton early Tuesday morning, waiting for traffic along an ice-slick Interstate 22 to clear enough to get through.
With ice still covering roadways throughout Northeast Mississippi Tuesday, traffic was ground to a halt across the region, especially in hilly areas. Temperatures are expected to remain below freezing until Wednesday, when a third round of precipitation is being predicted, so emergency officials don’t expect conditions to improve in the immediate future.
Calhoun County Sheriff Greg Pollan said his deputies had to rescue about 10 stranded motorists, Monday, and asked people to stay off the roads if at all possible.
“With this other round of weather coming through, I feel that road conditions could deteriorate,” Pollan said.
The extended forecast for Northeast Mississippi shows light rain starting Wednesday afternoon and temperatures rising above freezing and staying there through Thursday afternoon. If that forecast holds true, the rain could help melt the ice and clear the roads before the temperatures drop into the upper teens Thursday night.
“That is actually our first guess. This system is not as clear cut as the last one,” National Weather Service Memphis meteorologist Meredith Wyatt said. “We will have a better idea as we get closer to the event. Where the frontal boundary lies makes all the difference (between rain above freezing and sleet with freezing rain).
“We are still forecasting freezing rain, sleet and possible snow,” Wyatt said. “There could also be some cold rain mixed in. Northeast Mississippi could see up to a quarter-inch of ice accumulation with the next system.”
Westbound Interstate 22 was completely shut down for several hours around the Highway 23 and Highway 25 exits in Itawamba County, starting in the predawn hours of Feb. 16.
“There wasn’t an accident, the semi trucks just couldn’t get up the hill,” said Mississippi Highway Patrol Troop F spokesman Staff Sgt. Bryan McGee. “As soon as we heard about it, we contacted (by the Mississippi Department of Transportation). They were able to get out there around 7:30 a.m. and start spreading salt and rock on the road to help get traction.”
McGee said MDOT had a road grader working to both clear the road and help pull trucks to the top of the hill and “get them over the hump.”
By daybreak, there were around 50 trucks stacked up waiting to clear that one section of long, steep hills near the Belmont and Tremont exits off the interstate. MHP officials contacted the Alabama Highway Patrol and Alabama Department of Transportation to spread the road that the road was blocked, but the backlog grew to an estimated 100 trucks before one lane was cleared and opened up around 8:30 a.m.
“With that many trucks, it will still take quite some time for them to clear out,” McGee said Tuesday morning. “We are asking people to avoid that area if possible. Of course, you shouldn’t be out unless it is an emergency. For the most part, people have heeded the warnings.”
Local authorities echo the MHP request for motorists to stay home.
“The roads are still in bad condition and we remind people to stay off the road if possible,” said Clay County Sheriff Eddie Scott. “We had one incident Monday where an ambulance on an emergency call was held up due to a road being blocked by a stranded motorist.”
Stranded motorists were a problem for law enforcement all across the region.
“We did help a few people throughout the night,” Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson said Tuesday morning. “Some got stranded on the road. We helped some people who made it to their driveways, but couldn’t get to the house.”
In Alcorn County, most people seem to be staying home and staying warm, said Sheriff Ben Caldwell.
“We haven’t had much of an issue with people being stranded,” he said. “Most are staying home. The county roads are covered in ice. People should continue to use caution and stay home if possible.”