Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

TOP STORY >> Snow shifts, slams area

Footprints in the snow lead to and from Sherwood City Hall.

Whit Davis Lumber Plus in Cabot nearly collapsed from the weight of snow Monday. The store will be closed temporarily until repairs are made. Phones are being answered at the Jacksonville store.

By RICK KRON

Leader staff writer

It’s been 22 years since central Arkansas has seen this much snow. Depending upon who’s doing the measuring, totals run from 5 to 8 inches of snow.

The area got 10.4 inches of snow back in early January 1988.

Another storm system moving through the area late Thursday and early Friday could add another inch or two to the monthly snow totals.

The snowfall canceled most area schools Monday and Tuesday, closed city governments and caused many businesses to close early on Monday.

John Lewis, senior forecaster for the National Weather Service, admits the intensity of the storm was a bit unexpected. “We thought the snow line would be more north of us, a line from Fort Smith to Clinton to Batesville, but the line dropped down and basically followed the I-40 corridor,” he said.

The snow also started earlier, was heavier than expected and the warming took longer to occur.

“We predicted snow, then a mix, then rain before turning back into snow. That’s pretty much what happened, but the initial surge of snow was heavier than we thought it would be and the warming trend took longer, meaning it snowed longer,” Lewis explained.

So much snow fell that the weight of it collapsed part of the over hang at the Citgo on Warden Road off Hwy. 67/167 and caused the destruction of the Smokey’s Pub sign and canopy about a mile further south down the road.

In Cabot, police kept watch Monday night at Whit Davis Lumber Plus after part of the roof collapsed from heavy snow build-up.

There were no injuries.

Jim Oakley, public works director for Jacksonville, said Tuesday that most of the city’s major roadways were clear and the crews were working on the smaller streets.

“We’ve got 14 people in the street department and split them into two crews. One crew has been working from 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the other from 2 p.m. until midnight. Both crews have been plowing and dropping sand and salt.”

Oakley estimates that the department has gone through about 50 tons of sand and five tons of salt. “We run a mixture of one-quarter salt and three-quarters sand and also drop just straight sand,” Oakley said.

He added that the storm work would cost the city about an extra $5,000. “Because the storm happened during the week, it limited the amount of overtime we needed,” he said.

Oakley added that city crews would be back out Tuesday night and into this morning.

Sherwood police Lt. Cheryl Williams said the city has only had about a dozen storm-related accidents and that they were all minor. She attributed the low number to people heeding warnings to stay at home and to the good job the street department did.

In Ward, a couple of vehicles slid off the road, but no major accidents were reported there. The city spread a combination of sand and salt at intersections and scraped ice off roads with a backhoe.

In Beebe, no accidents with injuries were reported, only vehicles in ditches. The city has no equipment for spreading sand, which has made traveling city streets rough going.

Cabot reported no major accidents through Tuesday afternoon. Its street department spent Monday and Tuesday spreading sand on railroad crossings and overpasses using a truck bought last year.

“We’ve had a hard time because we’d sand and it would snow on top of it,” said Public Works Director Jerrel Maxwell. “I told the mayor if this global warming keeps up, we’re going to have to buy another truck.”

By 3 p.m. Monday, police in Beebe had measured snowfall totals at 7.5 to 8 inches. By mid-afternoon, downtown Little Rock had five inches; Austin reported 5.5 inches and Sherwood had five inches.

The Little Rock Air Force Base weather squadron recorded four inches of snowfall and the National Weather Service puts the total area snowfall at 7.2 inches.

This snow follows at the heals of a winter storm the end of January that also closed schools and businesses and snarled up traffic. That storm brought in almost two inches of snow and made January the snowiest since 2000.

January was also the coldest in seven years, even though no low-temperature records were broken. The air base recorded the lowest January temperature in the area on Jan. 10, a temperature of nine degrees, the first single digit low temperature in the area since 2001.

Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson estimated that state and local lawmen worked about 60 weather-related accidents in the county this week, most of them on state highways.

“We’re running pretty strong,” he said of his deputies. “We didn’t get a little bit of a break. All the wreckers were pretty busy.”

Roberson said the weather stopped most county residents in their tracks.

“I haven’t been out in the weather,” said County Judge Charlie Troutman, who is by definition the head of the county road department.

“No one with the county worked yesterday or today,” Troutman said Tuesday. That included both the county courthouse and the road department.

“We had so much damage from flooding (in January). This won’t help us any,” Troutman said. “It’ll be a while putting it all back together and fixing everything.”

“Most people just pulled a blanket over their head and stayed in. I don’t know if schools will operate tomorrow or not, what with the buses and the back roads.”

“At least we have money to fix them with,” Troutman said.

The snow means a break for county farmers, according to Jeff Welch, head of the Lonoke County Extension Service.

“They can’t do anything with the snow on the ground. Back when boll weevils were a problem, this would help us. Now they are waiting to fertilize what wheat we have in the ground.”

Welch said the snow was not a problem, but a similar snow in three weeks would be a bad time.

“We really need to get after this wheat,” he said.

(Leader writers Joan McCoy and John Hofheimer also contributed to this article.)