Tuesday, January 11, 2011

TOP STORY > >Communities dig out after record snow

Leader staff writer

The first snow of 2011 turned out to be not so bad for most of the cities in The Leader’s coverage area that were ready even before the snow started falling to make sure those who wouldn’t or couldn’t stay home were able to get where they were going.

Highway Department crews sprayed overpasses before the snow started to fall Sunday afternoon with a chemical that helped keep ice from forming and some cities sanded the streets.

The snow started falling in earnest Sunday afternoon and when it quit Monday morning most of the area had three to four inches of snow cover.

The National Weather Service officially recorded four inches of snow in North Little Rock, 3.5 in Cabot and two inches in Searcy.

All area school districts cancelled school Monday because of the heavy snow and again on Tuesday as a precaution because of icy roads in many areas. At this point, days will be made up at the end of the year.

Glenn Bolick, a spokesman for the state Highway Department, said the chemical was magnesium chloride, which goes on as a liquid. When it dries, it helps keep ice from forming and allows what does form to be more easily bladed off.

It’s a preventative that isn’t often used in Arkansas, Bolick said, because most winter precipitation doesn’t start as snow. It starts as rain which turns to freezing rain and then to snow. But the forecast late last week was for snow alone, not for the rain that would have washed the magnesium chloride away.

The Highway Department’s efforts were focused on U.S. Hwy. 67/167 and the bridges and overpasses associated with that highway, he said.

By midday Tuesday, all the major streets were clear and the side streets were well on the way.

Sherwood reported six minor weather-related accidents. “Most were two-car accidents, but one involved five or six cars. But all were drivable and there were no injuries,” said Police Officer Josh Adams.

Cabot police reported eight traffic accidents all across the city, all of them minor. “Traffic never stopped here,” said Jerrel Maxwell, Cabot’s public works director. “It’s like New York City,” he said.

This was the first bout of bad weather since Bill Cypert took over as mayor on Jan. 1.

On Friday afternoon, Cypert and Eddie Cook, Cypert’s director of operations, met with public works about sanding the streets and with the fire and police departments about emergency plans.

Maxwell said Cypert rode with him as he checked the condition of the streets during the morning hours on both Monday and Tuesday.

In Jacksonville, Public Works Director Jim Oakley said his department started sanding streets Sunday afternoon and didn’t stop until Tuesday morning. “We ran two-man crews on 12 hour shifts,” he said, adding that at the peak of the snowfall it seemed like there wasn’t much progress.

“We’d run a plow through and the snow would cover up right behind us. But that didn’t last long. Overall, it went well for us,” he said.

Beebe Police Chief Wayne Ballew reported two traffic accidents, neither of them major.

“It surprised me, but most people stayed home and stayed inside,” Ballew said Tuesday afternoon. “It was a slow day (on Monday). I’d like to see more of them.”

Milton McCullar, the director of Beebe’s Street Department, said the city doesn’t have a budget for large amounts of sand and salt or the equipment and workers to spread it. But workers did spread salt on the parking lots and sidewalks of the public buildings: city hall, police department, fire department, library and health department.

In Austin, Police Chief John Staley said a mix of sand and salt spread at intersections and on hills kept traffic flowing almost without incident.

“They put it down when the snow started to stick and our roads were pretty good; knock on wood,” he said.

Four cars slid off the roadway, he said, but no one was injured.

Eric Sims, a lieutenant with the Ward Police Department, said sand and salt on the streets in Ward kept them clear of ice and free of accidents related to the weather.

Little Rock Air Force Base’s work schedule was changed by the weather Monday and Tuesday. The base is now back to operating as normal, according to spokesman Bob Oldham.

“We adjusted to mission- essential only Monday, and Tuesday’s schedule was as directed by the commander, with others reporting to duty at 9 a.m.,” Oldham said.

Unless we get a ton of snow, we’ll be on the regular schedule going forward,” Oldham said.

The falling winter snow added up to a lot of green for many local businesses this week.

“It was like having a second Christmas. It was a great week. It happened to fall on the first of the month,” Price Cutter grocery store manager Jerry Davenport said.

He said there was a 25 percent increase in sales due to the snowy weather.

“It was a hectic but fun time. Most of the customers were in good spirits,” Davenport said.

“We ran out of milk late Sunday, but a shipment came in Monday morning,” he said.

Davenport said popular items were snacks, soft drinks, pizzas and the ingredients to make homemade chili and soups.

At ITE’s Family Enter-tainment, store clerk Skye Stricklin said over half of the Cabot store’s new movie releases were checked out Sunday. “It’s been a crazy few days,” he said.

Knight’s Super Foods was packed Sunday with Jacksonville customers loading up on milk and bread and on the fixings for nachos with cheese and ground beef and cheese dip.

Andy Isom, Hasting’s store manager in Jacksonville, said Friday and Saturday were busy and Sunday’s business went really well, despite closing early due to the snow.

The icy roads help Brad Hutslar who co-owns both Cabot Wrecker Service and Reflections Body Shop.

“From five o’clock Sunday night we ran until two in the morning non-stop,” Hutslar said.

Cabot Wrecker had 22 calls Sunday night helping tractor trailers, cars and pickups out of ditches. He said Hwy. 5 was pretty bad. Hutslar said there were three roll-overs. The Mountain Springs Volunteer Fire Department rolled over one of their big brush trucks. The wrecker company spent two hours helping them out.

Hutslar said the snow has its ups and downs. It helps pay the bills, but it is cold, wet work.

As for the body shop, Hutslar said the company has written a lot of estimates. “We expect to be covered up,” he said.

Cabot’s Home Depot store manager Kelly Ivey said the store saw an increase in business as residents prepared for the winter weather. She said the store made sure they had the supplies for customers to drive to work or to their homes safely.

She said customers bought sand, salt, faucet covers and other winterization products to protect their homes from the elements.

Ivey said a customer told them about an elderly couple who needed help clearing their driveway. He said a few Home Depot employees helped them by spreading salt on their driveway before the snow fell.

The couple called the store and said the salt helped melt the snow and ice so they could get to their mailbox.

James Patterson, manager of the Cabot Papa John’s Pizza, said it’s been a really good couple of days.

“When the kids are out of school, it’s crazy,” he said.

Patterson said it seemed that everyone in Cabot wanted pizza Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. He estimates a 70-percent increase in pizza sales with the winter weather.

He said the hardest part was getting his drivers out on the snow but he said safety is first. He told them not to take any risk.

“The drivers have a great attitude. They work hard. But I needed about seven more of them,” Patterson said.

He said the drivers received larger tips than usual from grateful customers.

At Domino’s Pizza in Jackson-ville, Georgiana Webber said business doubled at the store with 69 deliveries Sunday compared to 41 the previous Sunday.

Tommy Vanaman, manager of Synergy Gas in Beebe, said the winter weather prevented propane trucks from delivering on Monday. But they will work from sun up to sun down all week long and Saturday to catch up.

He said the business office was open on Monday. Vanaman said some customers stop in every day to refill their small propane bottles for heating.

Rick Kron, Jeffrey Smith and John Hofheimer contributed to this report.