LITTLE ROCK Arkansas’ largest utility welcomed cold customers to its Little Rock headquarters Saturday and pledged that linemen from throughout the South were working as quickly as possible to restore electricity knocked out by a Christmas Day blizzard.
On their fourth day without power, Entergy Arkansas customers shared comments, complaints and questions with company representatives. Some walked away satisfied, some were frustrated and some were elated to find that as they discussed their problems, power had been restored back at home.
Entergy says customers in remote locations or in rough terrain could be without service until New Year’s Day, and the state’s electric cooperatives say their final 4,000 outages, all in Saline County, should be resolved sometime Sunday.
Counting customers at Entergy and locally owned utilities, more than 260,000 homes and businesses were without power for at least part of the last week. As of midday Saturday, the number had dropped to about 70,000.
A storm system that also produced nearly three dozen tornadoes along the Gulf Coast swept through the Southern Plains beginning Christmas morning. In Arkansas, freezing rain collected on trees, power lines and poles that were later weighed down by up to 15 inches of snow.
Forecasters at the National Weather Service and on contract with the utility failed to predict the storm’s severity, Entergy spokeswoman Julie Munsell said.
The National Weather Service initially predicted the hard-hit Little Rock area would receive 3 to 7 inches of snow. It received about a half-inch of ice before 10.3 inches of snow fell.
The missed forecast, Munsell said, led the company’s operations team to line up too few workers for an emergency response. By the time more workers were called, it was virtually impossible to reach the hardest-hit areas because of treacherous roads.
The company had 4,700 workers in the field Saturday, she said.
Rob Roedel, a spokesman for the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, said the collection of 17 locally operated utilities was surprised by the storm’s path but believed its work after previous ice storms — including a mutual assistance plan among the companies — put it in a position to respond quickly to any area that was hit.
“We were told it was going to go to the north,” Roedel said. “But by Christmas evening, we had crews working.”