Holiday snow brings new challenges to area

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published December 30, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 28, 2012 at 11:25 a.m.
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Joseph Washington

White County truly became white on Christmas Day, as an average of 8-9 inches of snow fell in the area, as shown above. Like most of Arkansas, the Three Rivers area got a white Christmas and the hazards that go along with a heavy snowfall.

Those dreaming of a white Christmas in the Three Rivers area got their wish this year, along with all the inconveniences and hazards of a heavy snowfall in an area not used to so much accumulation.

“It was a disaster,” White County Sheriff Ricky Shourd said.

Shourd estimates the White County area received an average of 8 inches of snow. The department began getting calls from stranded motorists by 8 or 9 p.m. Christmas night as roads became slick.

“Most accidents were people in the ditch and small fender-benders,” Shourd said. “We were very fortunate.”

A patient transfer from Walnut Ridge to Jonesboro on Tuesday night that was just 25 miles took more than three hours for an ambulance crew from Arkansas Excellent Transport.

“The wind was blowing so hard you couldn’t see the road,” paramedic Gary Goff said. “You had to just follow the ruts from other tires.”

Goff said the only other problems his crew has encountered have been slick sidewalks and walkways when carrying patients to the ambulance.

As the snow began Christmas evening, Shourd said additional deputies were called into work in White County. The office had five deputies on duty that night and called in an additional three. Five additional staff members were on patrol Wednesday.

“A lot of people saw what the weather was doing and started for home early,” Shourd said. “Most calls were for service, picking people up who had gone into the ditch.”

Shourd said the biggest problem for his department was finding the right vehicles to battle the snow. The office’s standard patrol cars aren’t able to handle snow 8 to 10 inches deep, Shourd said. Once the snow began piling up, the department switched to trucks and SUVs.

According to the National Weather Service’s North Little Rock office, some of the heaviest snows in the Three Rivers area fell in Judsonia, 13 inches; Mountain View, 12 inches; Jacksonville, 10.5 inches; Augusta, 10 inches; and Desha, 10 inches. As of Thursday, the winter weather had played a part in the deaths of at least three people across the state, including two children in Faulkner County. Many in the area also experienced power outages as a result of heavy snow and ice.

Entergy Arkansas spokeswoman Julie Munsell said 191,000 homes and businesses across the state were without power at the height of the power loss. Help came to Jacksonville from the Arkansas National Guard in the form of four-wheel-drive military ambulances able to drive through heavy snow, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Capt. Kenny Boyd with the Jacksonville Police Department said the majority of weather-related calls received by the department had been noninjury traffic accidents and requests for welfare checks.

“We were able to handle the situation with the people we [already] had on shift,” Boyd said. “We put chains on the car tires and limited the number of cars we just had driving on rounds.”

As of Thursday afternoon, Boyd said, the main roads in Jacksonville were passable, but many residential areas remained treacherous.

The Sharp County Sheriff’s Office noted several large trucks off the roads on Wednesday, but by Thursday, main roads were mostly clear. Secondary roads in the Sharp County area remained partially snow-and-ice covered on Thursday.

Mountain View resident Brad Shipman reported that although roads in the area had been slick, the majority of roads in town were mostly uncovered as of Thursday. But in Bethesda, Kathy Fitzsimmons reported 12 inches of snow on the ground, enough to keep her stuck at home.

“Thank goodness we have power,” Fitzsimmons said.

Though the threat of more snow had passed by Thursday, Shourd said drivers in the Three Rivers area should remain alert for patches of black ice likely to form when melting snow refreezes after dark. With the potential for more ice in the forecast for Friday afternoon, Shourd said his department would remain on alert with enough winter-weather-ready vehicles on hand to respond to calls.

“I’ve been doing this for more than 30 years, and I’ve almost never seen a snow like this,” Shourd said. “It’s been since at least the early ’80s.”

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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