ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Gov. Haley Barbour declared a state of emergency Thursday in preparation for winter weather that could blanket parts of Mississippi with snowfall accumulations not seen during February in more than a century.
Forecasters said several inches of snow could accumulate in central Mississippi by Friday afternoon with as much as 9 inches further south. A winter storm warning covering much of the state was issued for Thursday evening until Friday afternoon.
Barbour directed the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard to “be prepared to provide emergency assistance if needed.”
Snow was expected over a large portion of the state, between Interstate 20 in central Mississippi and Interstate 10 to the south, said Lynn Burse, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson.
In central Mississippi, Jackson could get 3-6 inches of snow, Burse said. The last time Jackson saw that kind of accumulation in February was in 1901, when experts recorded 4 inches.
Since then, “there have been four other snow episodes in February where we measured over an inch, so it’s pretty rare,” Burse said.
Rain and sleet were expected south of I-10.
Some schools sent students home early Thursday and several canceled classes Friday. In Greene County, officials said classes would be held Monday, the Presidents Day holiday, to make up Friday classes.
“Our emergency management director was confident there would be a significant amount of snowfall,” said Greene County School District Superintendent Richard Fleming.
In Jackson, Mayor Harvey Johnson urged residents to prepare for “quite a bit of snow” by stocking up on supplies and staying off roads.
Johnson said public works crews in Jackson were prepared to use a road grader and deicing equipment to keep roads drivable, but Mississippi cities don’t generally have the heavy equipment and snow plows used up north.
Johnson said he doesn’t anticipate a repeat of the major problems Jackson faced last month when prolonged subfreezing temperatures ruptured dozens of water lines. The water breaks forced schools, businesses, courts and other government offices to shut down for several days in the capital city.
“I would be more concerned about power lines than water lines,” Johnson said.
Power outages are a major concern when snow or ice builds up on trees and power lines. Mississippi’s 26 electric power associations activated an emergency plan Thursday that allows them to share resources to restore power quickly, said Ron Stewart, a spokesman for the Electric Power Associations of Mississippi.