Winter storm
Residents urged to conserve power to prevent outages

Thursday, February 18, 2021
Here’s one of several cars to slide into a tree on Mountain Street in Eureka Springs this past weekend. Icy road conditions make steep streets like this nearly impossible to traverse.
Photo courtesy of David Blankenship

With snow falling throughout Carroll County beginning Sunday night and continuing all day Monday and again Tuesday night — and more snow possible Thursday — electric companies are encouraging citizens to conserve their power. That’s the best way to prevent outages, said SWEPCO representative Carey Sullivan.

Sullivan said SWEPCO is asking people to reduce their use of electricity so the power grid isn’t overwhelmed. In the meantime, Sullivan said, SWEPCO has had controlled outages in the states affected by the winter storm, including Arkansas and Texas. Sullivan said the controlled outages should not affect critical public health and public safety facilities.

“It’s an emergency procedure to reduce the load on the electrical system,” Sullivan said. “Customers shouldn’t be without service for more than a few hours.”

Brandi Hinkle, a representative for Entergy, issued a press release on Sunday asking people to reduce their use of electricity. In an email, Hinkle writes that people can take the steps to prevent outages from usage, “which is more of a concern right now than storm damages.”

“We ask that people conserve energy by holding off using large appliances — washers, dryers, dishwasher — unless absolutely necessary and setting the thermostat to 68 degrees or lower,” Hinkle writes. “If you do lose power, unplug those major appliances or turn them off at the breaker. Power them up one by one after your electricity returns.”

In a news release issued Sunday, Carroll Electric encourages its consumers to avoid “unnecessary electricity consumption” until Tuesday at the earliest. The release says consumers can adjust thermostats to lower settings and limit the use of appliances, electric water heaters, clothes dryers and dishwashers to conserve energy.

“If reductions are not sufficient to permit continuity of service, it may be necessary to begin temporary interruptions of electric service in specific areas across the state, including the service area of Carroll Electric,” the release says.

In a news release dated Feb. 16, the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas announced that they were forced to implement short-term, rotating power shutoffs at some local electric cooperatives. The shutoffs ended at 9 p.m., the release says, but the situation is still critical.

“This unprecedented situation is related to a number of factors, including a very volatile natural gas market, lack of dispatchable power generation resources and the extremely cold weather across multiple states,” said Andrew Lachowky, vice president of planning and market operations for the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas.

‘Extreme cold’

According to Joe Sellers, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tulsa, Holiday Island received 5.4 inches of snow and Beaver received 5 inches of snow as of 7 a.m. Monday morning. Sellers said another weather system moved in Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning, meteorologist Brad McGavock reported that Holiday Island received an additional 1.5 inches of snow overnight and could see more snow during the day.

The “extreme cold” that comes with the accumulation is a big concern in Holiday Island, said district manager Lawrence Blood. Blood said Holiday Island officials are “trying to do the best we can” even with the cold hampering their plans.

“We’ll get snow blowing up on the windshields and it’s freezing as soon as it’s on there, so we have to take things pretty slow,” Blood said.

Eureka Springs fire chief Nick Samac said his crews responded to a structure fire Sunday night, battling the blaze in the freezing cold.

“It is awful in this kind of weather,” Samac said. “Even though you’re near a structure fire, it’s still bitter cold and it’s extremely trying on the fire pumps and water hoses in this kind of temperature. They freeze quickly.”

Eureka Springs police chief Brian Young said the city hasn’t really had any accidents since the ice began to fall last week.

“There’s been a few people go off the road, but it’s not terrible primarily because most everyone is staying at home,” Young said. “With all this snow, we’ve been responding to calls and the worst part that we’re dealing with is the power outage.”

Blood said there have been few accidents in Holiday Island because people are staying home.

“Everybody is doing exactly what they should be doing,” Blood said. “I think I’ve only seen three vehicles on the road today.”

Mayor Butch Berry said Eureka Springs road crews blocked off several streets with traffic cones, which some people have stolen over the past couple of days.

“They’re removing cones and going around tape and going down some of our hills and getting into ditches,” Berry said. “The streets are blocked off for a purpose.”

Berry said Eureka Springs police officers are prepared to ticket people who steal the cones.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, County Judge Sam Barr wrote that the county is treating hills and curves with chat or pea gravel.

“Our guys are working to clear snow, and trying to make the roads as accessible as possible,” Barr wrote. “We are waiting for more salt to be delivered to us, and that will be used on hills and curves and asphalt roads.”

School closings

The Eureka Springs School District moved to virtual learning on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Superintendent Bryan Pruitt said the district will keep going with virtual learning until in-person class can resume.

“We know we’re behind as every school in the state is, but we’re just going to have to roll up our sleeves when we get a chance to get back in there,” Pruitt said. “Hopefully, everyone will be well and rested.”

Pruitt said that buses likely won’t run until Thursday, saying it could be much later if the winter storm continues throughout the week.

“I’m hoping by Thursday we’ll get a break in here, but it’s hard to wave that magic wand and make that decision right now,” Pruitt said. “We can’t get buses back out until the roads melt.”

Pruitt said the district understands that power outages could happen, preventing students from doing their virtual work.

“If our students and parents can’t get online, we’re going to be understanding of that,” Pruitt said. “The power was out this morning, so our servers and everything like that was out. Our tech guys had to get in there and get that turned on.”

Pruitt said safety is the most important thing.

“I want our folks to know we care about them and we’re understanding,” Pruitt said.

Be prepared

As the storm continues, Samac said, people should be aware of accidents that can happen at home. He said emergency responders have helped people who have fallen on ice in their driveway. Another big concern, Samac said, is a house fire. Samac said house fires are more common when people turn to alternate heating sources.

“Be prepared, and if you watch the weather and know something’s coming, plan for it. Dress accordingly if you have to be out,” Samac said. “When it’s like this, nobody should be out.”

Samac emphasized how important it is to have an alternate heating source and a good stock of groceries and any prescriptions you need.

“Have secondary plans of places you can stay,” Samac said. “Be cautious. Be careful.”

Blood encouraged people to have fully charged batteries in their flashlights.

“It’s definitely time to prepare now, rather than when the lights go out,” Blood said.

Another important safety precaution, Young said, is keeping cell phones charged at all times.

“Make sure all your stuff is charged up in the event of a power outage,” Young said. “And if the power does go out, the big thing is don’t panic. If it’s going to be an emergency situation, don’t hesitate to call us.”

Local shelters

Young said Eureka Springs police officers are taking women and children who need overnight shelter to the First United Methodist Church of Eureka Springs at 195 Huntsville Road, which is set up to feed and house those in need. Samac said the Eureka Springs Community Center at 44 Kingshighway is offering overnight shelter for men, and New Day Fellowship at 440 Passion Play Road is offering shelter for those who need it during the day.

Danyelle Harris said the door to New Day Fellowship is sealed shut, so those seeking shelter should ring the doorbell.

“We’re trying to keep the door good and sealed to help conserve the heat in there,” Harris said. “We have plenty of big, open rooms. Social distancing is not an issue.”

Harris said the church also has food available.

Berry said the city is working with the First United Methodist Church and the community center as part of its emergency response plan.

“Fortunately, we haven’t had the blackouts we feared,” Berry said. “We did have a few people go to the church yesterday morning. We’ve been working to make sure we have a place open for everybody that needs shelter.”

Rev. Blake Lasater encouraged anyone seeking shelter at the Methodist church to call the police department to get a spot.

“People need to call the police station to make those arrangements so we don’t have people coming here at all hours,” Lasater said. “We have cots and frozen dinners ready to go for them. We’re here for you if you need us.”

In Holiday Island, Blood said, shelters will be available at the Holiday Island Clubhouse at 1 Country Club Drive, the Holiday Island Presbyterian Church at 179 Holiday Island Drive and Grace Lutheran Church at 111 Valley Drive. Blood encouraged those seeking shelter to call the Holiday Island Fire Department at 479-253-3616. If no one answers, Blood said, call Barb Kuhn at 847-431-7867.

“We haven’t had any reports of power outages, but we’ve put together storm shelters for people if we do lose power,” Blood said. “We’ve got some warm places for people to go.”

Blood said Tuesday that the shelters hadn’t opened yet because there still weren’t any power outages in Holiday Island.

“They’re prepared and ready to go if they’re needed, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed they won’t be,” Blood said.

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