In Mississippi, snow-plowing tractors no match for latest winter storm

Snow and cold records are falling across the South as another winter storm blankets parts of Mississippi with half a foot of snow. One mayor admits he might have to buy a plow.

Bruce Newman/Oxford Eagle/AP
Students sled on the University of Mississippi campus in Oxford on Wednesday.

As yet another major winter storm broke the all-time winter snowfall record in the northern Mississippi town of Booneville Wednesday, Mayor Joe Eaton found himself staring at some unusual challenges for a place where the annual average temperature is 60 degrees.

After a 10-inch snowfall in late January and another three inches Wednesday, his troubles include keeping out-of-school kids from getting into trouble with their all-terrain vehicles as well as finding money in the budget to upgrade his makeshift snow removal equipment.

Coming off a colder-than-average winter in 2010, this season's record-setting cold and snow is supplying the citizens of Dixie with a new appreciation for what their Yankee brethren deal with on a more regular basis.

What's more, the steady winter storm chaos is forcing officials like Mr. Eaton and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed – who commanded a total of only eight plows after a January blizzard closed down the capital of the South – to look past policy debates about global climate change and focus on hard decisions about how to better prepare for the possibility of more cold weather ahead.

"Scientists seem to be divided among themselves right now [about the weather trends], but where does that leave the average person?" Eaton says in a phone interview. "We're going to look for a little more snow equipment this summer down at the state surplus sale. Right now we're using tractors with blades on them and backhoes to try to get most of the streets cleared, but it's become evident our equipment needs to be upgraded."

(For a explanation of the climate patters driving the cold weather, check out the Monitor's coverage here.)

A trace of snow isn't unheard of in Mississippi, but Tupelo, Miss., had 5.3 inches Wednesday. Arkansas and Oklahoma took the brunt of the snow, as three-foot drifts piled up across those states, leaving Arkansas completely covered in Currier & Ives white.

Tulsa, Okla., saw its winter snow record of 25 inches from the 1923-24 season fall as 26.1 inches have now accumulated.

But more than simple snowfall records, the frequency of storms and the cold spells between them has made this Southern winter unusual. Memphis, Tenn., has seen 14 days of snow on the ground this year with a total snowfall of nine inches, conditions not seen since the early 1980s. Before that, weather historians have to flip the books back to the early 1900s to find evidence of similar cold stretches. Georgia is on pace to record its coldest winter in recorded history. Savannah, Ga., marked its lowest recorded temperature on Jan. 14: 18 degrees.

The foot and a half of snow that's fallen this winter on parts of the Mississippi Delta is an all-time record. The 10-inch snow that fell on Booneville in January stayed on the ground for more than a week as cold Arctic air fell in behind the front that brought the snow. Huntsville, Ala., which received yet more snow Wednesday night, also broke the all-time "snow on the ground" record, going for eight days of white late in January.

While mayors like Eaton in Booneville are forced to rewrite emergency-preparedness plans in anticipation of more snowy days, Southerners like Lloyd Roberson, a convenience store clerk in Union City, Tenn., are pining for some relief from the invasion of northern air.

"I think it's pretty and it was great at Christmas, but I think I've had all I want for now," Mr. Roberson told WYVY-FM as snow fell Wednesday.

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