As Oxford remains shut down in the midst of Winter Storm Uri, many are reminded of another winter storm more than 25 years ago that left hundreds without power for days, and in some cases, weeks.
This story ran in February 2019, the 25th anniversary of the 1994 ice storm.
By Alyssa Schnugg
Similar to when most tragic events occur, people who lived in Lafayette County in February 1994 can tell you where they were, what they were doing and how they felt the moment they heard the first tree limb crack during the Ice Storm of 1994.
“Mostly, I remember standing outside with the constant sound of branches cracking, sounding like gunshots,” said Steve Thomas, who worked at the radio station where Kroger now stands. “The ice collapsed our tower straight down.”
A strange warming trend had the temperature on Feb. 9 reaching 70 degrees until a cold front started pushing its way into north Mississippi overnight. As the temperature fell below freezing, the rain soon turned to ice and sleet.
By Feb. 11, Mississippi and 10 other states had almost 2 million people without power – 200,000 in north Mississippi. Most Lafayette County residents were without power for two weeks, and some, for almost a month.
On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the start of the 1994 ice storm, much of Lafayette County is keeping a close watch on the weather tonight. The similarities of the weather patterns this week haven’t gone unnoticed. According to the National Weather Service, there’s a slight chance of freezing rain and sleet after midnight. Two days ago, it was 70 degrees.
Beverly Brent said weather reports forecasting ice still makes her a little nervous.
“Nothing much you can do about it,” she said.
Brent and her family went to an Ole Miss Basketball game on Feb. 9. The sleet started to fall when they left the game. At 4 a.m., the power went off and stayed off for six days.
“(I remember) trying to find a way to stay warm and keeping the children warm,” she said. “Also, (I remember) tree limbs and trees coming down. When you live in a wooded area, it was scary knowing a tree or limb might come down on your house. I’ve never appreciated heat and hot water so much in my life.”
Mykki Newton, a videographer in UM’s School of Journalism and New Media, was living in the faculty apartments on campus during the storm. With no heat in her apartment, she walked to her office in hopes of finding some warmth.
“There were several young men in the Grove watching the giant oak limbs break from the weight of the ice and crash violently to the ground,” she said. “Each time that happened, the young men would say, ‘Cool!’ I guess they thought they were safe because they had umbrellas. I turned around and went back to my faculty apartment.”
After a day with no heat, she drove to her parents’ house in Huntsville, Alabama. Normally a three-hour drive, it took her eight hours.
“An hour after I arrived a friend who also lived in the faculty apartments called to say the campus has power again,” she said. “My parents’ scolded me for not bringing my friend with me. I’ve never forgiven myself for that thoughtless oversight.”
The storm for Janice Rucker mirrored the darkness and turmoil going on in her life when the ice began to fall.
Before the storm hit, she received a call telling her that her mother-in-law died right before she left work.
“As I left work clouds seemed to be hanging so low, thick and gray you were almost able to reach up and touch the moisture although it wasn’t raining,” she said.
Funeral arrangements for her mother-in-law were stalled for more than a week.
In the early morning hours of Feb. 10, she awoke to the sound of limbs snapping off the trees behind her house.
“I remember getting up, turning on lights and making my way to the restroom,” she said. “That was the last time we turned the lights on for 17 days.”
Her husband was undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer and was on a special diet. Finding him the right foods was a challenge after the power went out.
“For our meals, I picked up what I could that was already cooked and used a small propane cook stove to cook what I could not buy already prepared,” she said. “My son-in-law hooked up a small TV on a truck battery for my husband to use as entertainment and to pass the time.”
Being on a private well, no electricity meant no water. Rucker had to drive into town to bring in jugs of water.
“We would actually drive around at night and see what areas had electricity and who didn’t, as they were repaired in blocks. We hoped they were getting close to our neighborhood,” she said.
Rucker lost her husband later that year in December 1994.
“Those are some of the darkest days of life as I remember them and why I panic when I hear a weather forecast of snow or freezing rain,” she said.