Monday, January 26, 2009

The Morning News reports that officials advise minimal travel and preparing to lose electrical power

The Morning News

Local News for Northwest Arkansas
Officials Advise Minimal Travel, Power Loss Preparation

As rain began freezing Monday, Northwest Arkansas residents struggled with icy roads and prepared for power outages predicted by the National Weather Service.

Arkansas State Police reported a fatal accident on U.S. 62 near Pea Ridge but no further details were immediately available.
Arkansas State Police and other area police agencies reported working more than 60 minor accidents between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Monday.
Workers with power companies and street departments were on standby late Monday, and schools and offices closed early.

The storm could produce 1 inch of ice accumulation from freezing rain through Tuesday along with sleet and subfreezing temperatures, according to the National Weather Service.

"There is the potential for some devastating effects," said Joe Sellers, a meteorologist with the service.

Any more than a quarter-inch of ice accumulation can cause significant damage to power lines and trees, and a smaller amount can make driving dangerous, according to the service's Web site.

"Only go out if absolutely necessary," Sellers said. "If you can stay inside and not travel, that would be highly recommended."

Local police departments advised residents to avoid driving.

The storm will have effects from south central Oklahoma to New England, but some of the most serious damage could be in Northwest Arkansas, said Brad McGavok, another weather service meteorologist.

A winter storm warning predicted prolonged power outages and hazardous driving conditions in Northwest Arkansas.

Power Outages

Peter Main, a spokesman for Southwestern Electric Power Co., said utility crews were preparing for heavy damage from the storm.

The predicted ice accumulation could pull down power lines and trees, further damaging the electric system, he said.

Main said local utility companies will work together to fix outages and might bring in outside crews if there is enough damage.

In storms with sustained freezing rain, workers no sooner fix one power outage than another one happens, he said.

Workers will respond to reported power outages and assess damage to the system, he said. Their initial efforts will focus on lines that serve the most customers, he said.

Anyone who finds a downed wire should stay away from it and report it immediately, he said. He also warned that people using generators should not plug them into their house's electric system, because it could be dangerous for utility workers.

The Ozarks Electric Cooperative had crews standing by and rotating shifts scheduled around the clock to deal with the storm, according to a news release. By this afternoon, the cooperative should have a good idea of the extent of the storm's damage and an estimate of how long power will be out, the news release stated.

The Red Cross of Northwest Arkansas had shelters on standby throughout its 19-county area on Monday, Executive Director Ruthanne Hill said. Once officials see where the storm hits, they'll activate shelters in the areas of greatest need, she said.

Mike Dixon, deputy director of Benton County Department of Emergency Management, advised people to say inside if possible.

Emergency Management is concerned about carbon monoxide poisoning for those using supplemental heat such as propane heaters, generators or a fireplace, Dixon said. He advised people to make sure their homes are ventilated. Those using generators should make sure they're away from the house and away from ventilation sources.

Sellers said people should go to a shelter if they do not have heat at their home.


Driving conditions deteriorated early Monday afternoon.

The Rogers Police Department responded to 14 accidents with three injuries between 1:15 p.m. and 5 p.m., said Angel Murphy Pearce, police spokeswoman.

She urged drivers to stay home.

"Our officers have studded tires, and it's still slick out there for us," she said.

Bentonville Police dispatcher Dru Blakeley roughly estimated police responded to between 15 and 20 accidents between 2 and 5 p.m. Monday.

Arkansas State Police Troop L in Springdale dealt with at least 30 weather-related accidents along state and federal highways as of about 5:30 p.m. Monday, said Sgt. Gabe Weaver.

Street department personnel were standing by for the storm. The Bentonville Street Department had all its equipment ready to go Monday afternoon, Street Manager Mike Button said.

The Bella Vista Property Owners Association's Street Department pretreated some hills with a sand and salt mixture Monday afternoon, Maintenance and Construction Director Mike Taggart said. The department has identified some steep areas as "hot spots" over time, he said.

"We're preparing for the worst and hoping for the best," he said.

The Benton County Road Department has its trucks, workers and chain saws ready in case the weather gets as bad as forecast, Eastside Supervisor Glen Scott said.

The Rogers Street Department put employees on notice that an ice storm will likely mean long hours.

And the same can be said for street departments in many cities in Benton County.

Lowell Street Department employees are planning to stay at the street department building Monday night in order to be on call at a moment's notice, said Mike Solomon, Lowell planning director.

The Pea Ridge Street Department was prepared for a long night, making sure all of their trucks were working, gassed, full of sand and ready to go, said Pea Ridge Mayor Jackie Crabtree.


Decatur schools will be closed today, Superintendent LeRoy Ortman said.

Gravette School District Superintendent Andrea Kelly said if weather predictions hold, students will be out today. That decision will be at 5 or 5:30 a.m., she said.

The Rogers School District will decide before 6 a.m. today whether to close, Superintendent Janie Darr said.

Bentonville School District Superintendent Gary Compton didn't return a phone call Monday afternoon.

Shelter Information

Northwest Arkansas American Red Cross

(479) 306-4688

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