Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

TOP STORY >> Icy storm threat falls short

By JOAN MCCOY AND JEREMY PEPPAS
Leader staff writers

The much-anticipated winter storm didn’t materialize. While extra help was ready to go, hospitals, wrecker services and utility companies didn’t have the problems they anticipated.

“It was not nearly as bad as we expected,” said Billy Hall of Ivy Hall Wrecker. “We were still busy, about twice as busy as we normally are.”

For the most part, people spent this past weekend at home as the power, and, more importantly, the heat, stayed on.
James Thompson, a spokesman for En-tergy Arkansas, said Tuesday that his company started planning for the storm five days before it was supposed to hit. Crews all over the state and in Texas were on standby. A command center was ready to go.

And contractors who clear away tree limbs were on notice that their services might be needed. There were a few outages around Hel-ena and Pine Bluff, Thompson said, but considering that Entergy has 673,000 customers across the state, it could have been a lot worse if the storm had been as bad as predicted.

“We plan for the worst and hope for the best,” he said. “This one just turned out thankfully to not be an outage event.”
Thompson said no one was really worried about snow and sleet. It’s the wind that tangles lines covered with ice and brings down tree limbs that rip them from the poles.

In 2000, back-to-back ice storms in December required crews from all over the country to help restore power, he said. The cost associated with that undertaking which including feeding and lodging all those workers was staggering.

But this time, the storm was expected to hit all over the state, so crews stayed at home and waited to see if and where they would be needed. So the only extra expense it caused was the overtime for the employees who put together the plan, he said.

“Our numbers were not elevated at all,” said Kristen James, the marketing coordinator for Reb-samen Medical Center in Jack-sonville, who said extra personnel were ready to go. “They didn’t call in any of the extra staff and they didn’t see anymore car accidents than normal.”

Most people, it seemed, used the storm as an excuse to stay in.

“I think everybody stayed at home,” Larry James of Jacksonville Starter and Alternator said. “And they didn’t do anything.”
James added that his wrecker service wasn’t, “busy at all.”

Around the state, driving conditions overall were much improved after two days of snow, sleet and single-digit wind-chill temperatures, Highway Dept. spokesman Randy Ort said. Three traffic fatalities were blamed on the weekend storm.
“Things are getting a whole lot better,’’ Ort said Monday. “We’re not totally out of the woods, but temperatures are rising and that’s helping a lot.’’

The Associated Press contributed to this report.