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Major winter storm moves through Arkansas

Icy blast leaves thousands without power; conditions expected to deteriorate by Arkansas Online | December 6, 2013 at 4:36 a.m. | Updated December 6, 2013 at 3:06 p.m.
A plow moves along John Barrow Road Friday morning in Little Rock.

1:45 p.m.: Wrecks keep police busy; one trooper injured

Police say they responded to numerous wrecks Friday as winter weather moved across Arkansas, including one that injured an Arkansas State Police trooper.

That agency said in a statement that the trooper, 37-year-old Cpl. Damon Dobson, suffered non-life threatening injuries about 9 a.m. when his patrol car was struck from behind by a pickup on eastbound Interstate 40 near the White River. Dobson had stopped to investigate a wreck in the area.

Police added that most of the wrecks were "slide-offs," where cars ended up in highway ditches or medians, or 18-wheelers that jack-knifed. Those occurred on several stretches of I-40 and Interstate 55, the statement said, noting the highways were at times blocked because of them.

State police advised against travel through the rest of the day and especially overnight.

"Highway conditions across Arkansas are expected to worsen overnight as the result of colder weather expected to sweep across the state," spokesman Bill Sadler wrote in the statement. "Unless it is absolutely necessary or an emergency, highway travel across much of the state is not recommended."

The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department online conditions map at 1:45 p.m. showed some form of slick conditions on highways throughout virtually the whole state.

In Little Rock, police responded to six accidents and minor injuries were reported in only two of them.

"The call load is light and that is helping with the response time to the calls that are being dispatched," spokesman Lt. Sidney Allen said in a statement.

In North Little Rock, a police spokesman said late Friday morning that traffic was light and there were not a large number of wrecks.

A North Little Rock city spokesman said a warming area may be opened if "prolonged electrical outages warrant such action."

By 1:30 p.m., Entergy was reporting 542 power failures in Pulaski County and most of those were in Little Rock's Boyle Park neighborhood.

Across the state, Entergy said more than 11,600 customers were without power by early Friday afternoon. More than 5,700 of those were in Pope County and more than 3,000 were in Mississippi County.

Southwestern Electric Power Co, reported more than 3,200 in the dark in Polk County, more than 2,000 in Scott County and more than 4,000 in Sebastian County.

The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas at one point had 35,000 customers in the dark, but it said that number had been reduced to about 21,000 by 1 p.m.

"Cooperative linemen across the state have worked throughout the night and day to restore service to those impacted," the group of cooperatives said in a statement. "Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative of Ozark and Rich Mountain Electric Cooperative of Mena have been the hardest hit cooperatives so far. Other cooperatives have experienced scattered outages."

1 p.m. update: The Weather Channel crew talks to ArkansasOnline; road conditions not improving

A broadcast crew from The Weather Channel was on Financial Centre Parkway in west Little Rock early Friday afternoon, tracking the storm as it blows across the state.

Reynolds Wolf, a broadcast meteorologist with The Weather Channel, said the state and particularly the central Arkansas area has already seen every aspect of a winter storm that one can see — snow, sleet, freezing rain and ice. And while the amount of precipitation that is currently falling is expected to go away, Wolf said, the temperatures are also expected to “take a nose dive,” meaning a frozen conditions for what is already on the roads.

“So much of what has fallen here, on these streets and these sidewalks and these overpasses on the freeway, a lot of that’s going to become a hard freeze, a lot of ice,” Wolf said. “Gonna have a lot of headaches out there.”

Wolf said that he and the the crew drove to Little Rock after flying into Dallas because conditions in the air prevented them from flying into the city. Wolf added that they’ll be in the Little Rock until they get the word from station's hub in Atlanta to move on, though he’s not sure when that will be.

ArkansasOnline reporters David Harten and Gavin Lesnick say that many metro-area roads are "passable" and "readily accessible," but slick as of 1 p.m.

"You have to be careful and ... go just the right speed — not too fast and not too slow. But luckily, there's not many people out on [the roads]," Lesnick said.

Interstates 430 and 630 have light traffic and are moderately slushy, Harten said. He added that all interstate bridges remain icy, and motorists are traveling slowly across them.

11 a.m. update: Power failures mount in metro area, across state; roads getting worse

Conditions are deteriorating in the greater Little Rock area as a winter storm packing freezing rain and sleet deposits a layer of slushy coating on area roads.

The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department reported slush and ice patches on the major roadways in the Little Rock area just before 10 a.m. Those and other conditions are now present on major highways in roughly the northern two-thirds of the state, according to the agency's online map.

In Little Rock, scanner traffic indicated Interstates 430 and 530 were becoming particularly slick. Motorists were seen spinning out of control on University Avenue near Park Plaza Mall as well as on John Barrow Road at Interstate 630.

At the latter, a Central Arkansas Transit bus spun out of control as moderate sleet fell at the base of the hill, but the driver was able to stop the bus and get back on track.

A number of other vehicles had difficulty ascending the hill just south of the interstate, including some that turned around midway up and returned from the direction they came in.

Charles Bush, 46, was walking to work along Barrow because he knew he'd get stuck if he drove, he said.

"You can't get there — it's too hilly," he said. "And if you do, you can't get back."

Andrea Milligan, a jewelry department employee at Sears in Little Rock, was waiting for a bus on North University Avenue near the Cantrell Road intersection as cars drove by, struggling to get up the hill.

“It’s kind of cold,” Milligan said. “Logically, [the bus] is a little bit late. Because I would be, you know, driving slowly [too]. So, I mean, it’s cold. But I bundled up well."

Meanwhile, Reed Road, which runs between Crystal Hill Road and Arkansas 365 North in North Little Rock, was closed within the hour, according to Pulaski County sheriff's office spokesman Lt. Carl Minden. Minden said as of 9:23 a.m., that was the only road closed in Pulaski County.

Power failures were also occurring in Little Rock.

Entergy Arkansas reported a widespread power failure in the Boyle Park area of Little Rock that started about 9:10 a.m. About 311 customers are affected, according to the outage map on the company's website. The company did not provide a specific time frame for when power would be restored to that area.

Other areas affected by power failures in the metro include part of Woodland Heights in Little Rock, with about 63 customers affected; Arkansas 365 South, just South of Sweet Home where about 51 customers are affected; and in Scott near Old River Lake, where multiple failures are affecting about 71 customers.

The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas said it had more than 30,000 customers across the state without power. Rich Mountain Electric had about 6,000 power failures at 9 a.m. and Arkansas Valley Electric had more than 13,000 power failures then.

Entergy just after 10 a.m. reported nearly 11,000 power failures across the state with the majority, nearly 7,000, in Pope County.

Southwestern Electric Power Co. had nearly 4,600 customers without power in Sebastian County and more than 3,700 in the dark in Polk County.

7:21 a.m. update: Freezing precipitation moving south

Freezing rain and sleet will continue to advance into southern Arkansas as the day progresses, the National Weather Service said Friday.

John Robinson, warning coordination meteorologist, said all but two of the state's counties — Columbia and Union — are under some form of an advisory for the winter weather.

The sleet and freezing rain, which reached the Little Rock area around dawn, will advance further south before the precipitation ends in the afternoon and evening.

"Most counties in the south will see a changeover to freezing rain and sleet before precipitation ends, but some places in the southern two rows of counties could end up with only cold rain," Robinson wrote in an email.

He added the northwest half of the state as well as the northeast and the central regions will see a shift to mainly light snow and sleet before the storm is done.

Refreezing of moisture on roadways will likely occur Friday night into Saturday, Robinson added.

The weather caused at least a dozen flight cancellations Friday morning at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, while six flights were canceled at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Highfill, the Associated Press reported. Another five flights were canceled Friday at Fort Smith Regional Airport.

In Little Rock, two Friday morning vehicle accidents — one at 65th Street and University Avenue, and one on the Cantrell Road hill, were reported, according to Little Rock Police Department. There were no injuries, Lt. Sidney Allen said Reservoir Road from Cantrell to Rodney Parham Road was closed, police said.

And power failures were continuing to mount: Entergy at 8:20 a.m. reported nearly 12,000 customers without electricity. More than 6,000 were in Pope County and more than 1,000 each in Craighead, Mississippi and Montgomery counties. Arkansas Valley Electric of Ozark reported about 17,000 power failures shortly at 8 a.m.

6:23 a.m. update: Conditions to worsen 'in a hurry'

The rain has shifted to sleet in central Arkansas as a winter storm continues to move through the state.

In downtown Little Rock, overnight rains turned to sleet shortly before 5:45 a.m., building up on parked cars' windshields and starting to make roadways slick.

The state Highway Department, meanwhile, said central Arkansas can expect road conditions to deteriorate as the day progresses. Already, highways north and west of Little Rock were experiencing icy, slushy and snowy roads.

Randy Ort, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Highway and Transportation, said motorists should stay home, even if Little Rock conditions don't seem that bad at the moment.

"They're going to get worse in a hurry, I'm afraid," Ort said in an interview by Interstate 30 in downtown Little Rock. "Temperatures are dropping, precipitation is basically sleet, a little bit snow right now ... I would encourage motorists to stay in today. This is not a good travel day."

Ort said crews began "around-the-clock operations" in central Arkansas late Thursday night, monitoring the situation and treating roadways as slick spots develop.

"We will continue that for quite some time," he said, noting another round of winter weather — albeit less significant — is set for Saturday into Sunday.

Traffic was light on I-30 and nearby downtown streets Friday morning. It was moving slowly but without much apparent difficulty.

Elsewhere in the state, the weather system was blamed for increasing numbers of power failures. By 6:20 a.m., Entergy reported more than 8,500 customers in the dark. About 5,500 were in Pope County and about 1,000 in Montgomery County.

Southwestern Electric Power Co. at 6:20 a.m. reported more than 4,500 customers without power in Sebastian County and more than 3,700 in the dark in Polk County.

4:36 a.m. update: Storm moves into state

A major winter storm packing snow, sleet and freezing rain was making its way through Arkansas on Friday, leaving thousands without electricity, making roadways slick and closing schools and workplaces across the state.

The winter weather, which prompted Gov. Mike Beebe to declare a statewide emergency Thursday, was falling in various forms.

The National Weather Service at 4 a.m. reported snow in Fayetteville, Harrison and Mountain Home; a wintry mix in Fort Smith; and freezing rain in Jonesboro.

In points further south, including Little Rock, temperatures were hovering just above the freezing mark and the precipitation was coming down as rain. But that was expected to change soon, said John Lewis, a senior forecaster with the weather service in North Little Rock.

"We really didn't expect locally in Little Rock for the changeover to freezing rain until we got over to dawn," Lewis said, noting it will probably happen between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. "I think as we get later in the morning and temperatures start falling, that's when we'll see problems on the roadways — especially bridges and overpasses."

The freezing rain is expected to continue through lunchtime, leaving between a quarter-inch and a half-inch of ice in its wake.

Areas in western Arkansas will see closer to an inch of ice, and some areas farther north had other forms of accumulating winter weather. Harrison saw two inches of sleet, and the Bella Vista and Pea Ridge areas got between 5 and 6 inches of snow.

The ice, in particular, increases the likelihood of power failures, utilities warned in the days leading up to the event. Entergy Arkansas, which brought in extra teams but said the restoration could take up to a week, on Friday morning reported more than 7,300 without power by 4:30 a.m. Those included more than 3,000 in Pope County and about 1,000 each in Hot Spring and Montgomery counties.

Southwestern Electric Power Co., meanwhile, at the same time had 4,500 customers without electricity in Sebastian County and more than 1,000 each in Polk, Scott and Logan counties.

A series of weather warnings remained in effect as the storm made its way through, including an ice-storm warning covering a large swath of Arkansas.

Road conditions were slick throughout northwest and northern Arkansas. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department showed on its online map a variety of ice, ice patches, slush, sleet and snow on highways throughout those regions.

Officials on Thursday advised against travel if at all possible. Beebe's state of emergency called for nonessential state personnel to stay home Friday, joining thousands of students from across the state whose classes were dismissed in advance of the weather system.

After an initial burst of winter weather hit Arkansas on Friday morning, Reynolds Wolf of The Weather Channel said that while the freezing rain, sleet and snow is expected to taper off, the temperatures will drop quickly overnight, leading to freezing of what is already on the ground.

Forecast calls for less precipitation, more freezing

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Drivers in the Little Rock area had to deal with the tough winter weather traveling through Little Rock on Friday morning. A particular challenge came on N. University Avenue near the Cantrell Road intersection, where a steep grade left some motorists stranded or having to roll back down the hill and turn around.

Motorists deal with rough winter conditions

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The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department is urging motorists to stay off the road Friday as a winter storm moves through the state.

Conditions to worsen 'in a hurry,' highway officials say

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This National Weather Service radar graphic shows a variety of precipitation falling across Arkansas Friday morning.

Information for this article was contributed by ArkansasOnline reporters Gavin Lesnick and David Harten, as well as The Associated Press.

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