In Mississippi, it’s rare to get any more than two or three snow days in a year — for most of the winter, it’s just freezing rain. So when the winter freeze came to town in late February, the city and much of Mississippi were caught off guard.
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing into 2021, this was yet another drawback for the colleges in Mississippi, particularly Millsaps College. For a full week, ice descended upon the Jackson metro area, leading to burst pipes, power outages, and a temporary halt to services such as the trash pick-up and the delivery of mail.
Some, like Dr. Anne MacMaster, believe that Millsaps has handled the winter freeze well.
“This typically isn’t something you’d see here,” MacMaster said. “I think this is the first time, a [major] freeze has happened in Mississippi.”
Dr. MacMaster was born in Massachusetts but moved away when she was young. Regardless, she still had the opportunity to get used to the winters in the north. There was a sense of nostalgia that came from seeing unbroken sheets of white snow blanket the city. Staying inside and drinking hot chocolate — as well as having a few of her classes canceled for the time being — was simply par for the course.
Macmaster reportedly lost hot water in her home within the first few days, as did most of Jackson. Living close to the Millsaps College campus gave her a unique perspective on the situation.
“It was actually kind of funny at times… seeing the students make their way to classes when we started up again, there was a lot of slipping and sliding. At the same time, it was worrying.” MacMaster expressed concern for the students living campus at the time. All of the dormitories had lost water completely in the onslaught of winter weather, and even lost power for a period of time. Many students often had to rely on portable bathrooms and showers, making trips to the bathroom in below freezing weather, often in the early morning.
“But you know, I think the college is doing well, given the circumstances.” MacMaster also praised the college’s quick response. Within a day, the aforementioned bathrooms and showers were fully functioning, and the campus was distributing water to be used.
However, the campus is still experiencing water problems almost a month later. This is the result of aging infrastructure in Jackson with potholes and burst water lines being frequent issues during natural disasters.
“I wish they had anticipated this more,” MacMaster. The professor cited climate change as the primary reason for the increasingly intense weather. Dr. MacMaster had been teaching at Millsaps for over thirty years now, and has been witness to many of the weather-related disasters Mississippi is commonly hit with. She also suggested a steadily shrinking tax base; with more people moving out of Jackson due to the failing infrastructure, the city has less money to fix this issue, thus leading to a vicious cycle.
She mentioned that in Massachusetts it was possible to be fined for not keeping the sidewalks in front of your property clear. During the winter, it was generally expected that everyone in the neighborhood would pitch in a bit to make things safe for everyone. However, the lack of preparation for this event led to a temporary shutdown of all public services. There were snow trucks out clearing the streets, but citizens were advised to stay at home if they could. Dr. MacMaster even mentioned having to make a short drive to help out a friend after he got stuck on the road due to snow and black ice.
Despite all of this, Dr. MacMaster remained optimistic, though wary, about the improving conditions. Mayor Chokwe Lumumba recently proposed an $80 million plan to repair and update the city’s infrastructure to prepare for another incident like the winter freeze. While Dr. MacMaster expressed reluctance at this plan, as she believed that more money would be required to accomplish its goals, she also expressed gratitude for the mayor’s plan.
“As long as Millsaps keeps moving at this pace, I think we’ll do just fine,” she stated. Life at Millsaps has largely returned to normal.
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This is such a great and interesting piece! I especially loved the perspective from an instructor with important underlying themes like climate change, preparation, and funding for the city of Jackson.