What happens when it snows in Jackson? Spoiler alert: Snow plows won't be used.

Justin Vicory
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

Mississippi's largest city and the state agency overseeing its roads and bridges lack many of the resources cold weather states take for granted.

The problem is twofold, officials say. There are only so many snow plows and salt trucks to go around in a state and city that doesn't experience frequent snow and ice accumulation and getting to all the places that need assistance is impossible. 

Still, there are some plans that have been undertaken to limit the affects of freezing temperatures on roads and infrastructure, even as news of widespread accidents and power outages have mounted in the last two days. 

Live weather updates:City of Jackson issues boil water advisory after cold affects treatment plants

An electronic message board advises drivers of potential congestion on the intersecting interstate as they drive south on Interstate 55 in north Jackson, Miss., Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, as light snow mixed with sleet, and rain continue to cover much of the state. The National Weather Service forecasts temperatures barely hovering at 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and likely slipping into the single digits by Tuesday morning. A winter storm warning continues throughout the state. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

In Jackson's case, the frigid temperatures not only affect the city's roadways, it also wreaks havoc on the city's water system. 

The mayor's office announced Tuesday it is already experiencing low water pressure across the city as a result of freezing temperatures on its water system and it is possible there will be a flush of water main breaks in the near future. 

Jackson hasn't seen temperatures dip into the teens and mid 20s for consecutive days since January of 2018, when the conditions also led to citywide water pressure issues and over 120 water main breaks across the city.

Most of those breaks occurred as the weather warmed up and the ground shifted, which means the city's system could take a hit toward the end of the week. There have been four water line breaks reported as of Tuesday afternoon. There are likely more the city has yet to track down, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said. 

Boil water advisory issued:City of Jackson issues boil water advisory after cold affects treatment plants

"Our water treatment facility experiences problems when pipes and equipment is frozen," the mayor said. "It makes the production and treatment of water very difficult. That's when people experience low water pressure and burst pipes leads to low water pressure.

"There's nothing we can do to prevent that." 

The mayor said the city is also limited on what it can do with its roads once snow and ice have collected. The city has a limited stockpile of salt to dispense on city roadways, which it largely portions on major streets or on hilly roads such as State and Fortification streets and Woodrow Wilson Boulevard. It lacks other resources such as snow plows.   

The best remedy is to prepare residents to stay at home, the mayor said. 

"Pretty much what we prepare for, and we met about this last week, is to shut down the city," Lumumba said. "We have some resources, but that is a baseline that doesn't really stop much." 

MDOT maintenance crews treat bridges on I-55 southbound in Hinds County on Sunday.

Size of storm system limits response

Meanwhile, the Mississippi Department of Transportation, which is responsible for road and bridge upkeep across the state, has some resources to lessen hazardous winter conditions but has also been busy responding to numerous weather-related accidents on major roadways, including Interstate 20. 

Spokesman Michael Flood said crews mobilized Wednesday of last week in preparation for the winter weather. Since then, they've been deployed across the state on a priority basis and have been periodically putting salt brine on major roadways and bridges, as well as a substance called slag, which contains fine pieces of asphalt that is put on road inclines and declines.  

The department has some snow plows and salt trucks to dispatch to troubled areas in the state and those continue to be in operation, Flood said. The issue with this storm system, he said, is that there have been issues reported in nearly every county, making it impossible to address everyone.

 The department advises motorists to keep a car kit checklist and gives car care information for winter months. It's main message is simple, though, during storm systems like we are experiencing: Stay off the roads. 

"You can prepare but when you have temperatures below freezing for consecutive days, it puts a strain on roads and bridges across the state." 

"There's really only so much you can do in an historic situation like this," Flood said. 

Contact Justin Vicory at 769-572-1418 or jvicory@gannett.com. Follow @justinvicory on Twitter.