Pounded by baseball-sized hail, Garland County begins repair work

Fire chief: Worst seen in 40 years

Brandon Watson, who manages Westport Plaza, surveys some of the damage the building sustained from Wednesday's severe weather. - Photo by James Leigh of The Sentinel-Record
Brandon Watson, who manages Westport Plaza, surveys some of the damage the building sustained from Wednesday's severe weather. - Photo by James Leigh of The Sentinel-Record

HOT SPRINGS -- Residents and businesses in western Garland County were left cleaning up shattered glass and fallen trees Thursday after a severe, fast-moving thunderstorm Wednesday evening produced unusually large hail and damaging winds, but no injuries were reported.

Fire Chief Autumn Carlisle of the 70 West Fire Protection District called it the worst "destruction from such large hailstones over that large of an area" she has seen in over 40 years in the community.

The National Weather Service said 4-inch diameter hail was reported in Garland County, with stones large and dense enough to crash through the roof of a mobile home near Lake Ouachita.

"It destroyed almost every single roof in the mobile home park," Dan Koch, a meteorologist at the weather service North Little Rock office, said Thursday.

Garland County Judge Darryl Mahoney said a vehicle with broken front and rear windshields was one of about a dozen sheriff's department units with hail damage.

"We had to have it towed last night," he said Thursday. "That hail was devastating."

Koch said the split flow in the jet stream contributed to the short-lived but powerful storm. The large, dense hail it deposited in south and west Garland County was unusual for June in the southern United States.

"You don't typically see a split flow this time of year," he said. "The branch over the southern half of the country helped fuel the storm. You had warm, moist, unstable air at the surface and really strong updrafts that can support the formation of large hail."

Koch said stones such as those that fell Wednesday can hit the ground at speeds of 40 to 70 mph.

"Sometimes they come down and break apart when they hit pavement," he said. "These came down like a solid rock and smashed a lot of roofs and cars. With lighter stones, the air resistance slows them down. There was a lot of weight in these stones. They had a lot of momentum behind them."

More than 1,500 Entergy Arkansas customers were without power Thursday morning, a number that still stood at just over 1,300 late Thursday afternoon. Entergy's online outage map estimated power would not be restored to some customers until 10 p.m.

A local contractor who manages Westport Plaza shopping center said Thursday morning the damage to the community could cost millions to repair.

The strip mall, located at the intersection of Marion Anderson and Airport roads, sustained damage to its stucco and signage, Brandon Watson said.

"As far as I've seen, it's a lot of downed trees, debris," he said. "Most of the neons and the signage have all been beat out of the building, a lot of big holes in the stucco. I haven't got a total evaluation on damage on this property yet. I'm just now doing the walk around on this building. I'm surprised there's not more glass beat up than there is as far as the amount of damage that was done in this area to vehicles and other homes that I've seen."

Watson said it could be some time before all repairs will be completed due to contractors already having plenty of work before the storm hit.

"It's already hard to find contractors," he said. "They're super busy. I run a construction company myself on top of managing properties for the owner, but it could be three to six months before you actually get somebody -- first come, first serve."

He also encouraged homeowners to be vigilant about scammers and to contact their insurance company before agreeing to any repair contracts.

"There's gonna be a lot of people door-knocking [Thursday]," Watson said. "A lot of unlicensed guys, a lot of swarthy guys, are gonna be door-knocking, looking to help. Watch out who you hire. Check your insurance. Make sure all that stuff's there before you hire somebody, I'll tell you that."

The 70 West Fire Protection District spent nearly three hours out on calls Wednesday night after a tree was downed around 6 p.m. in the 7500 block of Airport Road in Bonnerdale that caused a non-injury motor vehicle wreck, Carlisle said.

"While units were responding, they encountered some trees down off Lost Creek Road and off South Pearcy Road that they had to clear while responding," she said via email.

"As the storm moved past Pearcy and into the areas just west of Lake Hamilton the hail core and winds intensified, and [we] began receiving calls for damage off Candleberry Circle, Rock Creek Road, Majestic Lodge/Springwood Road areas, South Danna Drive, a large portion of Marion Anderson Road, and Sycamore/Mossman Road Area."

Mahoney said the heaviest hail was concentrated west and south of Lake Hamilton.

"It kind of followed the lakes," he said. "Crystal Springs, Royal, Pleasant Hill, Amity Road, [Arkansas] 290 and 7 south to Burchwood Bay, the south and west part of the county got hit pretty hard. I got a warning on my phone, and it was here immediately. It lasted 30 minutes, and the sun was shining again."

Mahoney said it's too early to tell if the storm damage will warrant a disaster declaration.

"We're doing an assessment right now," he said. "It's mostly private property that's damaged, and it's in areas that are probably insured. It went in a circle around the lake. We haven't gotten that far into it, because we're dealing with our own damage."

County Road Department Director Tony Breshears said crews worked until midnight clearing roads Wednesday. Trees were still across the road Thursday morning at the intersection of Mossman and Sycamore streets off Marion Anderson Road.

Other parts of central Arkansas also received severe weather on Wednesday, mostly focused in Conway and Faulkner counties.

According to the National Weather Service's local storm report page, there were 11 separate reports of hail across the two counties, plus one in Lonoke County.

The reported hail ranged in size between 1 inch and 2.5 inches.

North Little Rock also had one report of dime size -- 0.75 inch -- hail.

There were also reports of two trees down as a result of the storm. A social media post showed one falling onto a dirt road in Faulkner County off of U.S. 65 North, while a weather service employee in Cabot reported a "large portion of a tree down over a truck" near South First Street.

Morrilton's emergency management department also submitted a report of nickel-sized hail one mile north of the town.

Hail was also seen in Northeast Arkansas, with six reports submitted across Greene County and Clay County.

Emergency management in Clay County reported "hail larger than quarter size fell at the intersection of Highways 90 and 135" near Knobel.

The largest hail report in that area was of 1.5-inch hail in Marmaduke.

Koch, the weather service meteorologist, said atmospheric conditions are ripe to spin up more storms this weekend.

"The split flow in the jet stream is helping to fuel the storms," he said. "We have a pretty stormy weekend in the forecast. We have Gulf moisture over us, hot temperatures and cold pockets of air in the jet stream that will help drive instability."

Information for this report was provided by Daniel McFadin of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

  photo  Workers use chainsaws to cut a fallen tree in the 100 block of Sycamore Street near the intersection of Mossman Street. - Photo by Lance Porter of The Sentinel-Record
  photo  Brandon Watson, who manages Westport Plaza, discusses the damage the strip mall sustained from Wednesday's severe weather. - Photo by James Leigh of The Sentinel-Record