Tuesday, January 07, 2014

TOP STORY >> ‘Polar vortex’ moves out East

Compiled by Leader staff

The good news is that this polar vertex of cold air is retreating, and the area will be in the low 50s by the weekend. But there is a chance of rain through Sunday.

The arctic blast plummeted low temperatures into the single digits Monday and Tuesday.

People who braved the bone-chilling weather on Monday and Tuesday wore had to wear several layers of clothing to stay warm.

Jeff Loeschner of Cabot Waterworks was using a track hoe on Tuesday to dig for a water line along South Second Street.

Loeschner said he had to “just bundle up” to stay warm.

“Yesterday was pretty rough. We’re in the sun and the wind is not blowing today,” he continued.

Abraham Martinez was painting a wall on Tuesday inside the ninth-grade Freshman Academy under construction in Cabot.

He was wearing two pairs of pants and three coats. “That keeps me warm,” Martinez said.

Amy Weeks, a barista at Joe Bravo Espresso on South Pine Street, said, “Business has increased, especially in the afternoon. Definitely more people getting hot coffee.”

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman said city directors tried to find jobs for crews to work on inside because they didn’t want to send employees into the body-numbing wind.


Beebe experienced the most outages in The Leader’s coverage area, according to spokeswomen with Entergy, First Electric Cooperative and North Little Rock Electric.

Entergy spokeswoman Sally Graham said that is because there is a long rural line in Beebe that doesn’t allow the utility to provide power from another source.

At 12:52 p.m. Tuesday, 1,765 Entergy customers in Beebe were in the dark, Graham said. She said more than 1,000 customers had their power restored by 2:19 p.m.

As for the 692 customers who remained without power, Graham’s advice for them was to turn their thermostats off and wait 30 minutes to fully use their electricity when lights come back on. “That provides a bit of breathing room so we can keep the surge on our system at a minimum,” she said.

“As with issues during high-heat summer days, we’re responding as safely and as quickly as possible to the effect of extreme cold weather on our facilities,” Graham said.

She explained in an e-mail, “We are switching the load of electricity where we can to restore power to customers. If we restore large circuits all at once, with folks using power at the max to heat their homes —just as triple-digit days (when) folks are cranking their air conditioners — this surge created is sometimes higher than the protective devices can handle, causing the device to trip.”

Graham said distribution personnel are monitoring levels to see when the voltage settles down. Then the utility can restore power to more customers in smaller batches without the risk of tripping the device.

“The process becomes more difficult as you proceed, since the existing load gives you a smaller bandwidth to play with when you bring on more customers,” she continued.
“We understand the inconvenience and ask for our customers’ patience because it’s a delicate process to restore under extreme conditions. There is a potential for tripping the feeders and having to start all over again.”On Tuesday, she added, “It’s helping that temperatures have warmed up a bit today.”

Scott Williams, a supervisor with the Entergy office in Searcy, agreed with Graham. He said extreme cold weather makes everyone’s heaters come on, creating an imbalance that makes the system think there is a problem and shut down.

But, Williams said, the Beebe-area outage involved a short circuit caused by wind knocking power lines together on Dewitt Henry Drive.

First Electric spokeswoman Tori Moss said, “First Electric Cooperative experienced an all-time peak winter demand due to the extreme cold temperatures January 6 and 7. Approximately 430 members experienced weather-related outages in the Jacksonville district, which includes portions of Pulaski, Lonoke and White counties. The high demand also caused intermittent blinking lights in the Ward and Cabot areas.”

On the other end of the spectrum, North Little Rock Electric spokeswoman Jill Ponder said there were no weather-related outages in Sherwood.


Electric providers weren’t the only utilities suffering during the unusually cold weather.

Charles Culpepper of Master Plumbing in Jacksonville said, “Water pipes have been freezing and busting.”

At a time of the year when business is slow, Culpepper said he took six calls Monday and six calls Tuesday about frozen and burst pipes.

His advice for area residents was to keep houses warm and open cabinets under sinks. Culpepper added that he didn’t know whether leaving faucets dripping helps, especially since waterfalls freeze and icicles form from dripping water.

Jacksonville Waterworks Director Jake Short said on Tuesday, “We’re getting a lot of calls from folks that are having some issues.”

But his advice was to keep a thin stream of water running from faucets and to disconnect outside hoses. Short said, “Moving water is less likely to freeze.”

Westlake Plumbing in Cabot was so busy that the manager couldn’t speak to The Leader because he had callers on four lines at the same time. The receptionist said the company’s phone had been ringing constantly.

Don Hindman, director of the Jack Evans Senior Center in Sherwood, said pipes around the city had cracked so that the water coming from his faucet was discolored.

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman said those were Central Arkansas Water pipes.

But she clarified that none of the pipes in Sherwood burst.


Most area residents stayed inside their heated homes.

Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert said on Tuesday that no one used the emergency warming center opened Monday night at the Cabot Senior Center for people who may have needed to escape the extreme cold after losing power or heat.

Hillman said Sherwood didn’t have a warming center but would have opened one at the Jack Evans Senior Center if any residents had requested that be done.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said the warming center at the police department is usually opened only when there are power outages in the area.

He added that he thought area churches would open their doors to those in need, but “we just don’t have the homeless situation a lot of cities have.”


Cabot schools opened their doors 30 minutes earlier on Tuesday to make sure students were not shivering at bus stops or while walking to school.

Superintendent Tony Thurman said the district only opens buildings earlier when the temperature is abnormally cold.

Deputy Superintendent Harold Jeffcoat, who has been with the district for six years, said this is the first time he’s seen the buildings open earlier.

“We wanted no students to be left out in the cold. We have a number of walkers and bus riders waiting at bus stops,” Jeffcoat said.

Opening the schools earlier allowed parents to drive their children to school, get the kids into the building and still arrive at work on time, he continued.

Stagecoach Elementary principal Pam Waymack told Jeffcoat that several students came to school earlier.

Jeffcoat said the district takes other precautions, too. “When it is cold, we don’t let out students (for recess). Activities are provided inside the building,” he explained.

Jeffcoat said school administrators monitor both temperature and wind chill. If it is below freezing, students stay inside.

“Teachers do an excellent job making sure students are prepared and dressed appropriately,” Jeffcoat added.

He said school maintenance crews made sure all classrooms and facilities had heat. Crews worked all day, until 7 p.m. Monday night, making sure classrooms were heated, Jeffcoat noted.

Meanwhile, some elderly residents of Sherwood opted to stay in their heated homes.

Don Hindman, director of the Jack Evans Senior Center, said activities, including a monthly dinner on Monday, were not canceled. But attendance was about two-thirds of what it usually is, he said.

“We’re not having many folks coming out,” Hindman noted. Seniors also canceled visits to their doctors and other places rather than go out in the bitter cold, he added.


This week’s frigid weather continued the cold which arrived in the state in December.

The cooler weather was spurred on in 2013. In fact, spring 2013 was the fifth coolest on record.

The unusually low temperatures curbed the outbreak of tornadoes and other storm activities last year, but the state didn’t escape deadly weather all together.

In 2013, there were 34 confirmed tornadoes in the state with 17 of them hitting in May. Another tornado that month devastated Moore, Okla.

There were eight weather-related deaths in 2013. Two were from tornadoes (one in May and one in December), one was from high winds ( in May) and six were from flash floods (all in May).

The average temperature for all of last year was below average.

In December alone, it was one degree below the average high and two inches wetter than normal. For 2013, the average temperature was 61.9 degrees — almost a full degree below normal, making the year one of the top 20 coolest on record.

That is a far cry from 2012 — the second warmest year on record.

On top of that, December brought almost 7.5 inches of rain, ice and more than an inch of snow that closed schools for two or more days.

Rain fell from Dec. 1 through Dec. 9, setting a new record for consecutive rain days in December.

The rain also set new daily records on Dec. 6, Dec. 20 and Dec. 21. The heavy December showers pushed the yearly total above normal.

The few days of snow in December dropped more than normal for that month. Daily snow records were set on Dec. 6, Dec. 9 and Dec. 30.

The National Weather Service called December a roller-coaster month because temperatures went from near record warmth on Dec. 4 to near record cold three days later and then to the lowest December temperatures in five years.

Below normal temperatures continued through the middle of the month when temperatures were warmer again, cooled again and warmed again near the end of the month.

But another strong front dropped temperatures below normal for the last two days of the month.