Tuesday, January 06, 2009

TOP STORY > >Icy, wet weather causes misery

Leader staff writer

A layer of arctic air layer and a humid southerly front came together on Monday, creating icy conditions across much of Arkansas, leaving thousands without power and making some roads unsafe.

In the morning, ice began to build up on trees, vegetation, bridges and overpasses. By late afternoon, crews from First Electric and Entergy were answering calls across the state as trees weighted with ice bent and broke onto power lines.

By evening, 11,500 Entergy customers in its 63-county service area were without power, including almost 500 in the city of Lonoke and south Lonoke County. Another 450 customers in Jacksonville, Sherwood, and Cabot were in the dark. The areas worst hit were southwest Little Rock, Sheridan, and Hot Springs, where ice accumulations were heaviest.

First Electric Cooperative, which services 17 counties, including parts of Pulaski, Faulkner, White, Lonoke and Prairie, reported 2,000 customers without power on Monday. The highest concentration was 1,500 customers along Highway 5 at Greystone and to the north, who went without power for a couple of hours, according Neal Frizzell, First Electric vice president of marketing and communications.

Repairmen worked through the night and into Tuesday to remove fallen trees and restring lines. The hope had been to be on top of the outages by noon Tuesday, said Barbara Merrick, Entergy customer service manager, but the repair work has been “slow going, and it could be Wednesday, before it is finished.” By yesterday afternoon, 5,000 Entergy customers were still without power statewide. More outages could occur, Merrick warned, as warming temperatures released bent pines from icy shackles, causing them to spring back, sometimes into power lines.

Frigid temperatures made driving difficult on elevated roadways. By nightfall Monday, ice on the Main Street railroad overpass in Jacksonville made it treacherous for pedestrians and motorists.

In Cabot, police reported accidents on the Hwy. 321 overpass and where Hwy. 89 crosses over Hwy. 67/167.
A head-on collision on West Main Street totaled both vehicles.

“The weather had a lot to do with it,” said police Sgt. Brent Lucas. “One officer said there was ice on the overpasses.”

Record-high temperatures on Saturday helped slow the impact of the arctic front that began to move into the state on Sunday, said Chris Buonanno, U.S. Weather Service.

But by Monday, the low layer of frigid air began to chill ground, road surfaces, and vegetation enough to turn warm rain to ice.

By Tuesday afternoon, the icicles had melted and by evening power had been restored to most area residents.

The forecast for Wednesday is clear and highs in the mid-50s. For Thursday, the forecast calls for sunshine and an afternoon high near 60 degrees.