Thursday, December 05, 2013

TOP STORY >> Weather whips area

Leader staff writer

With the winter storm, tracked by area meteorologists for almost a week, rushing into central Arkansas Thursday afternoon, Jacksonville city officials were hurrying to gather up cots from Little Rock Air Force Base for a warming center.

Jim Durham, the city’s director of administration, said residents in need of warmth could come to the community center. “That’s where we are setting up everything. But if the power goes out, we will move everything to the safe room at the new public-safety building off Marshall Road.”

Durham said the backup generator that keeps the city’s 911 operations afloat during power outages could power the safe room lights and heat.

The city’s other safe room, in the senior center in Sunnyside, does not have back-up power and will not be opened.

In Cabot, the Veterans Park Community Center, located across from the High School on Lincoln Street, will open as a warming center for those without power, according to Brandi Clyburn, administrative assistant to the mayor.

The storm brought in frigidly cold air, dropping temperatures into the teens at times, meaning the wind chill was in single digits.

The storm, which is predicted to linger over most of the state through the weekend, dropped cold rain, sleet and ice and light snow on central Arkansas, causing most public schools and a number of scheduled events to close or cancel Friday and Saturday.

Little Rock Air Force Base initiated its “essential personnel only” policy for Friday.

It did not feel like winter ahead of the front. On Wednesday, it was 79 degrees at Monticello, 78 degrees at Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) and 77 degrees locally.

But in less than 24 hours, temperatures hovered in the low 40s and 30s.

A cold drizzle started late Thursday afternoon and turned to freezing rain and sleet as Friday dawned. The ice continued through Friday and eventually brought in a few flurries.

Up to a half-inch of ice fell in some local areas making roads treacherous and limited travel.

Icy buildup on power lines caused some outages.

As the storm was entering the local area, officials at Entergy, the state’s largest electrical provider, said, “We are positioning crews in centrally-located areas close to where they will be needed to restore power. Entergy crews and contractors are prepared to work long hours after the storm passes, restoring service to customers as quickly and as safely as possible.

“We can restore power faster in areas with less damage. Some of the hardest-hit areas could take longer. We will know more after the storm passes and we are able to fully assess damages,” Entergy said.

First Electric serves more than 88,000 member accounts throughout 17 counties in central and southeast Arkansas. The cooperative is headquartered in Jacksonville, and co-op officials said crews and contractors are staged throughout their system and ready to restore power in the event of widespread outages.