A perfect storm of dangerous weather will make driving hazardous at night and early in the morning this weekend.
The combination of wet weather and dropping temperatures could create icy patches on roads — also known as black ice — Friday and Saturday nights, the Harrison County Emergency Management Agency warns.
The National Weather Service in New Orleans has issued a hard-freeze warning for all six South Mississippi counties from midnight Friday to 11 a.m. Saturday, which means temperatures in the mid- to low 20s are likely.
Kelly Castleberry, district engineer for the Mississippi Department of Transportation, said if the forecast holds true for temperatures at 28 degrees and rain until 11 p.m. Friday, all South Mississippi roads and bridges will be icy. He said MDOT is prepared to salt iced roads and bridges, but will have to wait until the rain slacks off.
“I’m sure there will be some slick spots,” Castleberry said.
For lifelong Southerners unfamiliar with black ice, it is even more dangerous than snowy roads. All those rain puddles could freeze into slick, icy areas that leave vehicle tires without traction and could cause fish-tailing, much like hydroplaning in heavy rain. Bridges and overpasses are especially susceptible to ice because they are elevated.
County EMA Director Rupert Lacy said any icy bridges that can’t be immediately sanded, salted or brined (liquid salt) will be closed.
“After sunset, if you do not need to drive, please stay off the roads, bridges and elevated roads because of black ice,” he said in a statement.
It’s called black ice because it’s generally on black pavement, and is nearly invisible to drivers.
There also is wind advisory in effect from 6 p.m. Friday to 9 a.m. Saturday Winds will reach 20 to 30 mph with occasional gusts of more than 35 mph, which can make driving difficult, especially for tall vehicles.
A wind-chill advisory starts at 9 p.m. Friday through Saturday morning, which means it could feel even colder — into the teens and single digits.
Areas of rain are expected to possibly mix with, or change to, light sleet and freezing rain late Friday, Harrison County warns. There also is a chance of thunderstorms that could produce dime-size hail, as well as gropple (or graupel) — soft ice pellets not quite as hard as hail.
Temperatures are expected to drop below freezing again Saturday night, so any leftover ice or standing water could again freeze and cause dangerous driving conditions into Sunday morning.
Coast power companies are preparing for electrical outages, as they always do in severe weather. Mississippi Power company spokesman Jeff Shepard said crews are standing by, but are more likely to be needed in the northern section of the company’s service area around Meridian.
Outages could be caused by ice on power lines or tree limbs falling on lines in heavy gusts. Customers can report and monitor outages on the Mississippi Power’s website or app and Singing River Electric’s website or app.
Moderate rainfall Friday afternoon already was starting to flood some streets, especially where water hadn’t completely receded from heavy rains last weekend.
Remember to protect your pipes, pets and plants. Temperatures this cold can kill plants and animals, and water freezing in pipes can burst them.
The Salvation Army cold-weather shelter in Gulfport will be open Friday through Sunday nights at 2019 22nd Street. In Ocean Springs, St. Paul Methodist Church’s Living Well Ministry will open a cold weather shelter Friday night through Monday morning at 2820 Government Street.