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Remembering 1994 And 1996, The Benchmarks Of All Ice Storms

By David Howell

We can’t say we weren’t warned, for a full week the forecasters reported the frigid blast with sleet and snow that was coming. The advance notice was almost too much, kids’ anticipation was through the roof and the grocery stores were slammed for days. There are some hilarious Facebook posts by friends and family who stocked up on plenty of food for the winter storm, beating the crowds at the grocery store. The only problem, they shopped too early and ate up all the good stuff before the winter weather arrived. The early “planning” warranted a return trip to the grocery store and, by this time, the lines stretched into the aisles and patience for many was wearing a little thin.

But we should be thankful for the advance warning, there was plenty of time to prepare for the brutal single digit temps. My list included covering outside hydrants (after repeated reminders), bringing in firewood and checking the anti-freeze in the old tractors, my father-in-law instilled that precaution in me. We can’t forget cranking the generator, there is always a possibility that the storm could impact our power. Everyone who has a generator knows they are notorious for not cranking when needed.

I think all of us who “survived” the 1994 Ice Storm are a little wary when the forecast mentions the possibility of ice and freezing rain. That ice storm has been the benchmark for all winter storms in the decades that followed. You know what I am talking about, we swap stories about how long we were without electricity, and how we all improvised for cooking, heating and just about everything else you can think of. We recall the sound of limbs and trees buckling under the weight of ice, cracks that sounded like gunshots.

I lived in Batesville, in the middle of the town, and we were without power for four solid weeks. As a freshman at Northwest Mississippi Community College, the inconveniences didn’t bother me as we were out of school for almost a month. A buddy and I stayed busy cleaning trees and debris from yards, we loaded trailer and trailer with limbs and hauled them to the designated drop-off area in the city.

The only problem, we were making so much money that I neglected my job at my father’s newspaper in Batesville. Best I can recall, there was a little discussion that helped get me back on track and I’m pretty sure it didn’t involve a pay raise! I stayed busy as that month passed in a hurry and I ran a chainsaw more than I ever have in my life.

Although less talked about, the next benchmark winter storm in my life was two years later, in February, 1996. That storm was similar to what we experienced the last few days – several inches of ice followed by frigid temps.

I remember going outside that morning in 1996 after five or six inches of solid ice fell and my little Nissan pickup was frozen to the ground. That was a first! After several nudges back and forth in four-wheel-drive, it broke free and away I went. Probably wasn’t too smart as I didn’t have to be out, but it sure was a lot of fun. Folks were slipping and sliding everywhere, kind of like the last few days.

Thankfully the 1996 Ice Storm caused minimal, if any power outages that I can remember in Panola County, but it seems like it was the coldest and longest ice event in my lifetime. Everything was a solid sheet of ice for a week or so. Even when the sun finally made its appearance, the melting was minimal and it just made the roads slicker.

I remember plenty of accidents, sledding mishaps that caused serious injuries, slip and falls with broken hips, arms and legs as well as fatal vehicle wrecks. I also remember having a lot of fun, it was best sledding ever!

You know what is sad, the older you get the less you enjoy this kind of weather. When the forecast showed it was going to get bad Sunday night with ice on the roads for the next few days, all I could think about was getting the paper out on time. It seems like the ice always comes at the first of the week, instead of the weekend when there are no pressing deadlines. At least my home office had plenty of windows to watch the sleet fall and a nice, warm fire on Monday before I ventured out to the office Tuesday morning.

One thing is for sure, I am hopeful the Ice Storm of 2024 won’t go down as another benchmark!

The grocery store lines were long in the days leading up the winter storm as people stocked up on milk and bread, along with other essentials.

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