Preparation, but few problems from winter storm

Posted: February 21, 2013 at 5:32 a.m.
Updated: February 21, 2013 at 12:01 p.m.

Custodian Jose Perez continues to salt the walk way as Will Bryant, a fourth grade intern at Bayyari Elementary School in Springdale, escorts Meredith Cox, instructional facilitator, across the patches of ice covering parts of the sidewalk and entry in front of the school Thursday morning. Freezing rain and sleet continued through the morning with the National Weather Service in Tulsa predicting up to half an inch of ice accumulations possible.

Rain, freezing rain and sleet began falling in Northwest Arkansas before sunrise this morning, making roads slick and prompting numerous school and business cancellations.

But the storm did not cause the problems that had been predicted. No major power outages have been reported, and most schools are in session.

Marshal Watson, the Benton County's emergency services administrator, said very few problems had been reported to the county.

“We had maybe a half-dozen accidents in the county.” Watson said. “It really wasn’t much more than a normal event. We were lucky with the temperature staying around 32 degrees. If it had dropped to about 29 it could have been much worse.”

Temperatures hovered just above freezing Thursday as a steady rain fell throughout the morning. Tony Davis, Bentonville streets manager, said an early morning rain at about 6 a.m. helped melt accumulation on the roads.

“It helped us out a lot,” Davis said.

Bentonville street crews started working at 12:30 a.m., with a larger contingent hitting the roads at 4 a.m. They spread salt on bridges and other problem areas.

The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department also had crews out working Thursday morning. Steve Lawrence, District 9 engineer, said roads in western Benton County didn’t see much ice accumulate overnight. There was one wreck reported on a bridge that could have been ice related, he said.

The eastern part of Benton County saw some ice but “no major accumulation,” he said.

Interstate 540 was listed by the highway department as having ice patches, but Lawrence said he wasn’t aware of any major traffic problems.

“We’ve got our crews out. If there are any problem areas that develop, we’ll treat them,” he said.

Davis said he was less concerned about icy streets by late Thursday morning than he was about high wind gusts blowing tree limbs across roads. He said crews are traveling the city to make sure roads are clear of downed limbs.

High wind gusts and ice accumulation also made some officials concerned about power outages. But most area electric power companies had seen few outages by late morning Thursday.

About 500 accounts lost power in Bentonville for about 40 minutes early Thursday morning. The outage was reported at 6:12 a.m. and power was back on by 6:49 a.m., said Travis Matlock, city engineer.

The outage affected the Bentonville High School, but a blown fuse in a transformer knocked power out to the northern building at the school until about 8:20 a.m.  Students in the building were rerouted to the Arend Art Center and the Commons during the outage, said Mary Ley, director of communications for the district.

Carroll Electric had about seven accounts lose power around Bella Vista Thursday morning, said Nancy Plagge, director of corporate communications.

“It’s not been too bad for us,” Plagge said. “We have just had a couple of minor incidents. Hopefully the temperature will stay where they’re at and the wind doesn’t get too gusty."

Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport was accepting diverted planes that weren’t able to make it to their destination because of the storm, said Kelly Johnson, airport director. A few flights were canceled early Thursday morning because planes weren’t able to leave the origination city overnight, but all flights were running on schedule by 10:30 a.m.

There was an accident involving a school bus in downtown Bentonville as a high school student drove to school. The student's vehicle hit the school bus near a stop sign at Northeast Fifth and A streets, said Ley. No one was injured in the incident, she said.

Sgt. Craig Stout, a spokesman for the Fayetteville Police Department, said the department responded to 40 wrecks Wednesday, but none since 7:15 p.m. Wednesday.

Capt. Nathan Atchison, who heads the patrol division for the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, said there had not been any major accidents because of weather conditions.

Atchison said he was aware of three private property accidents and of a few cars slidding off the roads.

“I don’t know of any bad accidents,” Atchison said.

Atchison said they had prepared for deputies to patrol in trucks instead of their cars.

“Deputies are still in their patrol cars,” Atchison said. “We did not even have to pull out the trucks.”

Atchison said there are some slick areas and drivers need to be careful.

Bella Vista Fire Chief Steve Sims said medical personnel responded to two or three patients that had slipped on ice outside their homes Thursday morning. At least two were transported by ambulance to a hospital, he said.

The good news for those who do go to work today, is that the commute home this evening should be fine, she said, because temperatures are expected to get above freezing this afternoon.

Terry Gulley, Fayetteville's transportation services director, said road crews worked overnight treating streets with a salt and sand mixture. 

"We never had any trouble," Gulley said. "We've got our trucks out, and we'll just kind of monitor the higher ground."

Justice of the Peace Steve Curry is a bus driver for the Gravette School district. Curry said he encountered no problems on his Thursday morning bus route. He said most of the students he normally picks up rode the bus Thursday morning.

“The roads were slushy, but for the most part very driveable,” Curry said. “I heard no complaints from other drivers.”

NWA Media reporters Misty Gittings, Tom Sissom, Kate Ward, Joel Walsh and Tracy Neal contributed to this report.