February 27, 2013 Edition

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Problems from ice storm minimal

This star magnolia tree in Walnut Ridge, which was already budding, was encapsulated with ice during freezing rain that fell throughout the county on Thursday. Both Entergy and Craighead Electric reported some power outages due to the ice storm, and all Lawrence County schools were closed.
TD Photo ~ Anna Bland

Gretchen Hunt

While Lawrence County suffered some ill effects from freezing rain that fell on Thursday, those who recall the ice storm of 2009 would call it a walk in the park.

The county was one of several in Northeast Arkansas placed under an ice storm warning by the National Weather Service. In response to those warnings, all Lawrence County Schools, as well as Williams Baptist College, cancelled school for Thursday.

"Making decisions to call off school due to approaching inclement weather is often very difficult because weather is hard to predict," Sloan-Hendrix Supt. Mitch Walton, said. "Superintendents have access to weather reports on television, radio, and now, more than ever, the Internet. Having a variety of weather and weather radar websites is a big help, but superintendents are not meteorologists."

In January, Sloan-Hendrix found itself in the opposite situation when a winter storm that was supposed to stay south of the county dumped snow that quickly deteriorated road conditions.

Walton said that superintendents in several counties in close proximity to Lawrence County provide a network of information when inclement weather events are in the forecast.

"Getting up at 4 or 5 a.m. to make decisions for the school day based on weather predictions can be tedious, especially when the inclement weather is not supposed to arrive until the morning or later in the day," he added.

This was the case on Thursday, but local superintendents decided to err on the side of caution.

Late morning, the rain moved in with temperatures still just below freezing and ice began to accumulate on trees, power lines and anything above the ground.

Sheriff Jody Dotson said overall the roads were really good.

"The Highway Department did a great job on bridges," he said.

While road conditions stayed fairly clear, power companies soon began to have problems.

"We were thinking and hoping we may have completely dodged the bullet around noon on Thursday with zero outages in our network," said David Burnette, Entergy customer service manager. "That changed quickly."

Burnette reported that by 3 p.m. approximately a thousand customers in Lawrence County were out of power, mainly in Alicia, Portia and Imboden. While the majority of the outages were restored that same afternoon, there were some scattered outages that took a little longer to address.

"All customers who experienced outages were restored within 24 hours," Burnette said.

Entergy did have an additional 29 line workers with a contracting company in Missouri assigned to work the network, as well as nine Entergy personnel from the Marion network and eight scouts who performed damage assessment.

Meanwhile Craighead Electric was having some difficulties of its own.

At the peak of its problems, the cooperative was reporting 1,400 customers without power, including 700 in Lawrence County.

Monty Williams, vice president of marketing and communications, said there were some poles broken, resulting in outages in Walnut Ridge, Hoxie, Smithville and Saffell.

Williams said there was no comparison between this storm and the one in 2009.

"We replaced over 8,000 poles in 2009 and only had to replace four this time," he said. "We had 25,000 without power in 2009, this storm only about 1,400 were off - big, big difference."

He said they did not bring in extra crewmen, and that their linemen worked straight through with the last one getting home about 6 a.m. Friday morning. He said there was also a brief outage for some in the Walnut Ridge area on Friday morning as the ice began to melt, causing a problem with the lines.

"If it had been just a couple degrees colder, it could have been another 2009, especially in Lawrence County," Williams said.

In addition to school closings, the weather caused some schedule adjustments in regional tournaments being hosted by Hoxie, Hillcrest and Sloan-Hendrix school districts. Game times were moved up on Wednesday, and games were cancelled on Thursday.

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