LITTLE ROCK — Following record-breaking high temperatures on Wednesday, temperatures plummeted into the low 40s Thursday and were predicted to drop further as a winter blast made its way across Arkansas.
Ice storm warnings were issued for most counties across the state as Arkansans were warned to prepare for hazardous road conditions and possible power outages. Gov. Mike Beebe on Thursday afternoon declared a statewide emergency, directing all but essential personnel not to report to work on Friday.
Forecasters at the National Weather Service said Thursday that as much as a half-inch of ice was expected in some areas, as well as significant accumulations of snow and sleet.
Sleet and ice were reported in western Arkansas and the northwest corner of the state Thursday during the day.
Beebe said after a speech to more than 100 attending a Compressed Natural Gas Conference in North Little Rock that state departments and agencies were preparing for the storm. He urged residents to do the same.
“Everybody has got their eye on it,” he said of the storm. “I hear grocery stores are stocking up and running out of bread and milk and other (items). People need to be prepared. If it’s not as bad as everybody is thinking, fine, we’ll just have a bunch stale bread, but we need to be prepared.”
The governor said the state Highway and Transportation Department had its road crews ready should roads ice over, and he noted that Entergy Arkansas has about 8,000 utility crews read to respond if power outages occur.
“We’re doing everything we possibly can,” Beebe said.
Many schools in western and northwestern Arkansas canceled classes Thursday and Friday, and the threat of ice and snow caused many schools in central and northeastern Arkansas to announce they would be closed Friday, including all schools in the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special school districts.
Arkansas State University announced Thursday that its Jonesboro and Paragould campuses would be closed Friday and that a graduation ceremony scheduled for Friday night on its Beebe campus was postponed. The University of Central Arkansas said its campus in Conway would be closed Friday.
The National Weather Service predicted Thursday that icy conditions would continue into Friday. A half-inch or less of snow and sleet was forecast for Fort Smith, and Little Rock was expected to receive 0.4 inches to 0.6 inches of ice and less than an inch of snow and sleet.
Pine Bluff was expected to receive 0.2 to 0.4 inches of new ice and less than a half-inch of sleet and snow.
The Friday forecast for Jonesboro was for 0.1 to 0.3 inches of new ice and three to five inches of snow and sleet.
The wintry blast that hit the state Thursday came just a day after Little Rock hit 77 degrees, breaking its daily temperature high. The city’s high temperature Friday is expected to be 32 degrees, according to the weather service.
In anticipation of the severe weather, the Arkansas National Guard said Thursday that 50 Arkansas Army and Air National Guard members have been ordered to active duty to begin preparing equipment at 12 locations across the state in anticipating of being called by the governor.
“I think most people do not realize that the Guard is the only service with a unique, dual mission to provide the national defense as well as to respond to the needs of our fellow Arkansans when there is an emergency here at home,” said Maj. Gen. William D. Wofford, adjutant general for the Arkansas National Guard.
Central Arkansas Water offered tips on how people can keep their indoor and outdoor pipes from freezing.
“Customers should leave a think stream of water running from the cold-water tap when temperatures dip below freezing because moving water is less likely to freeze,” said John Tynan, a spokesman for CAW.
Outdoor water hoses also should be disconnected and water should be drained from automatic sprinkler systems to reduce the possibility of freezing, the utility said.