NWS: Storm will cause travel, power problems

Posted: February 20, 2013 at 10:29 a.m.
Updated: February 20, 2013 at 3:54 p.m.

A view of a snowy Fayetteville from the 5th floor of the Washington County Courthouse.

Benton and Washington counties are under a winter storm warning in effect until noon Thursday.

Barbara Long walks with her daughter Jessica, 17, and James, 12, as snow begins to fall while leaving the Rogers Public Library Wednesday morning. The...

Graphical Hazardous Weather Outlook from the National Weather Service

Snow was falling across the region Wednesday morning, and the National Weather Service was forecasting more precipitation including sleet, rain, snow and freezing rain. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department was reporting slushy and snowy roads in Washington County at 11:30 a.m.

Sgt. Craig Stout of the Fayetteville police department said Wednesday afternoon police had responded to 32 wrecks in three hours with no injuries.

Springdale police had worked 10 wrecks as of 3:30 p.m. State police had worked a steady stream of accidents, but had no tallied numbers.

The warning said the storm could produce 3 to 5 inches of snow and up to a half inch of ice. The storm will make travel hazardous or impossible and could cause some extended power outages, according to the warning.

The storm was causing some closings and cancellations Wednesday. The University of Arkansas issued a statement saying that any decisions to close or cancel classes would be relayed through text, phone or email messages to staff and students signed up in ISIS or BASIS.

Benton County

Benton County emergency services personnel were briefed Wednesday morning by the National Weather Service on the potential for dangerous weather.

Robert McGowen, director of the Benton County Emergency Management Agency, said the main concern is ice accumulation on trees Wednesday night coupled with expected strong winds. Downed tree limbs and heavy ice could result in power outages, he said.

“I hope it’s not that bad,” McGowen said. “ We have been fortunate so far this year. I hope we’re as fortunate as we have been so far.”

Snow started falling at about 10 a.m. in Bentonville and quickly covered the ground. Cars packed the parking lot of the Midtown Shopping Center in downtown Bentonville as shoppers loaded up on supplies at the Harp’s grocery store.

Elizabeth Hendricks of Bentonville pushed a full cart out of the store through the slushy parking lot. She said the trip was her regular trip, but she “picked up a few extras because of the weather.”

The Benton County Road Department was gearing up for an anticipated second wave of bad weather Wednesday night, said Cindy Jones, road coordinator. She said many of the personnel have already gone home for the day because they plan to be working most of the night.

Trucks are already loaded with sand and salt and will likely be dispatched at around 9 p.m., Jones said.

The Bentonville and Rogers school districts were both planning to finish out the day as planned, according to school officials.

Washington County

The Washington County Emergency Operations Center has stayed in constant contact with the National Weather Service, said Rick Johnson, deputy director.

Residents should expect up to three inches of snow, which should pose no immediate severe problems for driving this afternoon, he said. However, drivers should still keep a safe distance from cars and keep blankets in their vehicle in case of an accident.

Terry Gulley, Fayetteville transportation services director, said road crews and trucks are ready to spread salt/sand mixtures throughout city streets.

Road crews will first spray major streets, followed by secondary streets such as those leading to hospitals and schools. Crews will then treat residential streets.

In Springdale, road crews have sprayed bridges and other hazardous areas with magnesium chloride, a chemical that slows down ice accumulations, said Sam Goad, public works director.

Springdale crews have spray trucks ready with a mixture of grit and salt that would be mixed with the magnesium chloride for streets.

Road crews would first spray emergency roads such as those leading to hospitals, police and fire departments.

All Washington County road crews have been called in to prepare snow plows and other trucks to spread half-inch limestone chips, said Shawn Shrum, assistant road superintendent. Road crews would likely begin once three inches of snow have accumulated.

Power companies prepare

All crews knew to be on standby for power outages for Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, said Penny Storms, Ozarks Electric Cooperative spokeswoman. The cooperative inventoried all fuel, transformers and wiring and have all necessary supplies to respond to power outages, she said.

People can report power outages by calling 800-521-6322 or by logging onto Ozarksecc.com.

As of 2 p.m. Wednesday, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department listed U.S. 412 in Benton and Madison counties and Interstate 540 from Benton to Van Buren as potentially hazardous. The department advised extreme caution on the roads.

Steve Lawrence, engineer for District 9, said highway workers had started pretreating major routes like Interstate 540 in anticipation of the icy weather. He said he thinks icing will be “more substantial” than what Northwest Arkansas residents have seen so far this winter.

Southwestern Electric Power Company was also gearing up for tonight’s icy weather. Additional crews were on standby to assist with repairing downed power lines and cutting tree limbs as needed, said Peter Main, spokesman for the company. He asked that people report outages as they occur online at www.swepco.com, through the company’s mobile application or by calling 1-888-218-3919.