Residents shelter in place following snow accumulation; more winter weather on way

A single car tries to navigate Main Street in Crossett following significant snowfall during the first part of the week. (VERSHAL HOGAN/News Observer)

 

Blowing in on winter wind gusts of up to 20 miles per hour, a record-setting storm dumped more ice and snow on southeastern Arkansas than has ever been recorded in a single day Monday. More winter weather was expected in the coming days.

With the snow came hours of ice — sleet fell before and after the bulk of the snow — and record-breaking low temperatures. The previous low temperature records for southeastern Arkansas on the dates of Feb. 15 and 16 were 19 and 17 degrees Fahrenheit, set in 1943 and 1977. While reports vary, one weather recording station in Crossett recorded lows of 16 degrees for both days.

Light snow flurries continued Tuesday morning, but the sun soon broke through. The National Weather Service warned, however, that, “Another winter storm system will spread precipitation over Arkansas again beginning Tuesday night and will continue throughout the day on Wednesday, tapering off for most locations by Thursday afternoon.”

Because of the forecast, as of press time Wednesday Ashley County remained under a winter storm watch. A significant concern is Wednesday, when precipitation is forecast to possibly transition to freezing rain, resulting in between a quarter- and half-inch of ice accumulation in southeastern Arkansas.

Crossett Mayor Crystal Marshall said that Crossett mostly rode through the whiteout without significant issues. She said the city’s departments took a lot of precautions when they knew the storm was coming in — prep work that included sharpening chainsaws, putting sand on the city’s bridges, making sure generators were fueled.

“My biggest concern now is losing power,” she said. “I have been in contact with the schools and a couple of churches in town to be in conversation if we need a warming center. I hope that is not needed, but I want to keep our citizens safe, because if we lose power it would be for a prolonged period.”

The city has had patrols making sure everyone is OK, Marshall said, but she also wants to remind people to remember to bring their pets inside.

“This is dangerous weather for pets,” she said.

Disruptions

The accumulation of as much as six inches of snow in Crossett in the first part of the week was enough to disrupt most businesses and government services. 

While the Crossett City Hall had opened Tuesday to accept water bills, most other government offices were closed. The snow also caused a temporary pause in mail delivery.

“All or most USPS mail carriers will be attempting to make it to our offices tomorrow,” Crossett U.S. Postal Service Postmaster Trisha Acord said in a public service announcement Monday. “If we make it, we will then have to wait and see if our mail truck can make it to our offices.  If we end up running mail, customers that live off the main highway may not receive mail tomorrow.  Please be patient.  We will do our best but we all want to get home safe to our families.”

On Tuesday, however, Acord followed up with another announcement that the Crossett Post Office would not be receiving any mail that day.

“We will attempt to deliver Wednesday if we receive mail,” she said.

The Hamburg and Fountain Hill Post Offices shared similar messages.

Why the mail truck could not get to Ashley County was not a mystery. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Arkansas Department of Transportation’s IDriveArkansas highway mapping application showed every major highway into Ashley County as having ice conditions. Speaking during a news conference that same afternoon, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the main concern for roadways in the southern part of the state was still removing the depth of the snow.

Ashley County Judge Jim Hudson said Tuesday that the highway department had opened up the highways but everywhere else was covered in snow and or ice and the county didn’t have any way to clear it. 

“The highways are passable, but our secondary roads are packed with snow,” Hudson said.

There haven’t been any major accidents or other snow-related tragedies thus far, Hudson said, adding that, “if people will stay home, we can keep it that way.” 

Hudson also said the county can’t run trash trucks at this point and he doesn’t know when they will be able to again, but as soon as the roads are safe he will work out a plan to get the trash pickup schedule back on track. The Cities of Crossett and Hamburg likewise announced temporary halts to garbage pickup.

“The main thing is that everyone stays warm and stays safe,” Hudson said.

The Ashley County District Court announced that it would not be conducting court this week, and that those on the docket would be reset and notified of their new court date by mail. Judge Crews Puryear’s and Judge Robert Gibson III’s circuit court dockets were also delayed.

Even the great outdoors has been impacted. Lake Georgia Pacific has been closed to the public. In a news release, GP Public Affairs Manager Jennifer King said, “Due to dangerous and inclement weather, Lake GP will be closed to the public effective immediately due to extreme ice conditions at the boat ramp and unsafe driving conditions on the north levee road. The facility will be reopened to the public once dangerous conditions have moved out of the area. We will publicly announce the date when everything will be reopened.”

One group that didn’t get an extended snow day, however, was students.

The University of Arkansas at Monticello announced students would use virtual learning through Feb. 19, and both the Crossett and Hamburg school districts said students would continue school using remote learning methods through Feb. 18.

Energy concerns

Entergy Arkansas began contacting customers on Monday night urging them to conserve power. An automatic phone call and simultaneous text messages said that they were requesting limited electricity because of the extreme cold whether. The message said that customers should turn off electric water heaters and lower automatic heating thermostat settings. 

“Insufficient reductions may require temporary interruptions of electric service,” the message said.

Entergy sent out a news release stating that the company’s reliability coordinator, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, has made this request to Entergy and other utilities in its footprint, including other utilities in our area for customers to conserve as much energy as possible. 

“If the power supply cannot meet the demand, then periodic power outages would be needed to prevent an extensive power outage that could last an extended period,” the release said.

The release also said that Entergy crews have taken proactive steps to mitigate the impact of the extreme cold to our system, including placing additional power generation into service and adding additional personnel to our crews to closely monitor our facilities.

“We apologize for any inconvenience this request may cause,” said Kurt Castleberry, director of Resource Planning and Market Operations, “but the extreme temperatures for consecutive days are driving up electricity usage. This is an unusual situation driven by extreme weather conditions much of the country is experiencing. We are working to respond and bring the electric system back to a normal operational state as soon as possible.”

Castleberry added that the request does not apply to elderly customers or those with special health concerns.

Hutchinson said Tuesday that energy conservation remains critical and will be a challenge for the entire state in the coming days.

“On the natural gas front, this has really been impacted by Texas and Oklahoma’s high demand, and with the cold weather some of the wells being inoperable because of the freezing temperatures,” he said.

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