Tuesday, March 04, 2014

TOP STORY >> Ice storm hits hard, moves out

Leader staff writer

Sunday was the start of a severe sleet, ice, snow winter storm in the area and National Severe Weather Week.

The storm that evening brought lightning, thunder, rain, freezing rain, hail, sleet, ice, snow and cold, cold winds to the area.

The mess caused officials to cancel school in Pulaski, Lonoke and White counties.

Slick road conditions and chilly weather also shut down many city governments — like Sherwood and Jacksonville — along with state and federal offices.

The high temperature of 27 degrees Monday was the lowest high ever recorded in March, breaking a record of 30 degrees from 1965.

Temperatures are expected to reach back into the 60s by the weekend.

But John Robinson, a spokesman with the National Weather Service, made no guarantees that the warming trend signaled the start of spring.

“This is Arkansas,” he noted.

With winds adding to the chill in the air Monday, temperatures felt like they were in the teens and single digits most of the day.

That and lack of sunshine kept roads frozen for the most part, causing officials in central Arkansas to cancel school again on Tuesday.

Most government offices did not open before noon Tuesday.

According to the National Weather Service, most of the area got about 2 inches of snow on top of half an inch of ice or sleet.

Cabot recorded 3.3 inches of snow and ice, while spots in north Pulaski County received almost an inch of sleet and ice.

On Tuesday, temperatures came close to the freezing mark.

Some sunshine helped the salt that crews were dumping on the slick roads start doing its job. Salt doesn’t work well at 22 degrees or below.

The warm up came a little late for Lonoke County. Crews ran out of salt and were spreading just sand Tuesday morning.

Roads were still so icy in spots on Tuesday that some, like Hwy. 5 near Greystone subdivision in Cabot, were closed for hours.

Danny Straessle of the state Highway Department said its crews used salt on elevated areas, such as bridges and overpasses, while it was raining on Sunday.

The crews arrived to work at 1 p.m., left at 2 p.m. to dump the salt and finished dumping the salt at 6 p.m., Straessle said.

Usually, those areas would be pretreated with calcium chloride. But that couldn’t be done because the rain would have washed the chemical away.

Straessle explained, “We put it out while it was raining. The rain starts dissolving the rock salt and, as it dissolves, it starts to heat.”

The reaction lowered the freezing temperature of water on those elevated areas, giving crews more time to get back out to address them.

“We had a tremendous amount of sleet come down yesterday,” Straessle said on Monday. Aside from volume, it also fell fast.

The spokesman noted that crews would clear one lane, start on the second lane and see the first lane fill up again.

He added on Monday, “We worked through the night and will continue to work through the night tonight.”

About Tuesday, Straessle said black ice was likely.

Even though much of the interstate was cleared by Monday afternoon, he warned, “The interstate is still not normal so their driving habits cannot be normal. Take your time.”

Straessle also suggested that drivers leave extra space between their cars and others cars.

He said this storm wasn’t as bad as some in the past because the department was aware of it beforehand.

All of the Highway Department’s plows had been disassembled but there was enough notice about this storm to put them back together and replenish supplies like salt, Straessle said.

He continued, “We started the day advising people not to get out if they didn’t have to.”

Other than some drivers “being overconfident on dry portions,” people stayed home, he said. That allowed crews to work without worrying about traffic.

Several wrecker services agreed with the spokesman that there weren’t as many people on the roads as there have been during previous storms.

Jacksonville Tow and Recovery driver David Sundine on Monday said, “I ain’t been real, real busy, but I’m staying steady. People are learning to stay home when it’s bad like this.”

He told The Leader he saw a few customers stuck in their yards or in ditches, but no serious damage was caused to any of the cars he towed.

Billy Hall of Ivy Hall Wrecker Service in Jacksonville said on Monday, “We’ve been pretty busy. It was not as bad as some previous storms we’ve had.”

He said a few people drove too fast and spun out because the ice was clear and hard to see.

But Steve Rich of Rich’s Wrecker Service in Lonoke said he responded to 30 calls from 6 p.m. Sunday through Monday morning. On a typical day, he would only have four or five calls, Rich said.

He said most of the one- and two-vehicle accidents were on the freeway.

His business was back down to one or two calls by Monday afternoon, Rich continued.

He said the roads were mostly clear by then but, “if they get on back roads or parking lots, they might be hung up.”

Lt. Carl Minden of the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office said on Monday that the department had responded to about 20 accidents between Sunday evening and Monday afternoon.

Just one was in The Leader’s coverage area. It occurred at 6:35 p.m. Sunday on Graham Road.

Minden said the list of accidents he provided The Leader included several that happened on the highway or interstate. The sheriff’s office assisted Arkansas State Police with those. Said Minden, “Trouble spots? Everywhere. Stay off the roads.”

The owner of Cabot Wrecker Service, who wanted to be identified only as Brad, said a lot of people stayed home. The business only helped one or two cars that ended up in ditches.

Cabot Police spokesman Sgt. Keith Graham said on Monday that officers were responding to calls all evening and during the day about vehicles in ditches and a four-wheeler in the road. He said main roads were trouble spots, but none more so than the others.

Office manager Brittany Peters of Action Wrecker Service in Ward said Monday morning was busy with the business responding to rollovers, two-car accidents and drivers in ditches. The service responds to calls from drivers on the freeway, she added.

Another concern during any storm is power outages.

North Little Rock Electric, which services Sherwood, had one outage caused by a car hitting a pole, spokeswoman Jill Ponder told The Leader on Monday.

First Electric’s Jacksonville district that includes portions of Lonoke, Pulaski and White counties had scattered outages from the storm on Sunday and Monday. The outages affected fewer than 200 people locally, spokeswoman Tori Moss said on Monday.

Sally Graham of Entergy said there were fewer than 100 outages for customers in The Leader’s coverage area.

She added that outages are often caused by ice weighing down the lines. Half an inch of ice adds 500 pounds and can cause a lot of damage, such as a line snapping, Graham explained.

In Jacksonville, all trash routes will be picked up two days later than normal.

Leader staff writer Rick Kron contributed to this report.