Saturday, December 29, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Wicked Weather

A week ago, weather forecasters had only an inkling of what was in store for Arkansas: They called for only a slight chance of snow on Christmas, but as conditions changed — forecasters crunch millions of data in their computers all the time, and weather predictions have improved in recent years — they realized a lot more than just an inch or two of snow was headed our way.

By Sunday, it was obvious that a record snowstorm was headed our way late Christmas. Forecasters focused on the snow, but not the freezing rain, sleet and ice that came first causing trees and power lines to crack. The added weight of the snow brought the snap, crackle and pop. State highway officials went on high alert, and cities started salting some roads.

Utilities sent out calls for workers from surrounding states.

Entergy, the state’s largest electric company, called for 4,000 workers from out of state, but most of them didn’t arrive till later in the week, leaving thousands of customers still without power. Early Friday afternoon, there was a convoy of about 100 utility trucks spotted along I-40 between West Memphis and Carlisle, coming in from Chattanooga, Tenn., and North Carolina.

A garbage truck was barreling down a slick West Main Street in Jacksonville on Wednesday afternoon, crossing the centerline and barely missing oncoming traffic. A water department truck passed an Entergy truck in a no-passing zone on Harris Road. A car was speeding down the slushy road in a 25-mph zone, going about twice the speed limit.

People are in a hurry, especially when the roads are slick. Downed trees along Hwy. 67/167 slowed motorists down just a bit as they drove to work Friday morning.

Everyone will have stories of the Blizzard of 2012, officially called Snowstorm Euclid, although it looks like there’s still time for one more big whopper as the forecast calls for rain on Monday and with the temperatures ranging from the 40s down into the 20s that precipitation could freeze and bring us sliding into 2013.

As the new year gets going in earnest, we will hear about and report on the dwindling number of neighbors who still had power but took in family, friends and even strangers, and kudos go out to every one of them.

Special thanks also go out to the public works employees in Lonoke, Pulaski and White counties, as well as those in Sherwood, Cabot, Ward, Austin, Beebe and Jacksonville and other surrounding towns, where many workers spent their Christmas not with their families, but with tons of sand and salt, trying to make their streets and highways safe.

In Sherwood, Public Works Director Brian Galloway said his crews started hitting the roads about 4 a.m. Christmas morning and have been running pretty solid through Friday.

Galloway was hoping Friday’s rain wouldn’t freeze and he could give his people and equipment a break.

“But I’ve got guys on call, just in case,” he said.

And we all need to be thankful that there were no deaths, major crashes or fires in the area.

But let’s stay vigilant and careful and keep it a safe holiday season.