Ice, snow impact county schools
Districts pivot to virtual classes to keep learning going amid winter weather
By JOHN RECH
The ice storm of 2021 thundered through the West Memphis around 3:30 a.m. Thursday morning forcing closings, some power outages, limited services and modified schedules. The storm had been forecast for more than a week pressed the West Memphis administration with contingency plan preparations. Technology robbed school students out of a snow day holiday. Marion Mayor Frank Fogleman looked ahead at the forecast City sanitation customers received two messages about what services to expect in the storm. The first came via city social media announcements at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The note said trash pick-up was on for Thursday but it might run late due to slick roads and tough conditions at the landfill. It said cancellations could happen depending on the severity of the frozen precipitation.
Later in the evening, Mayor Marco McClendon invoked the city inclement weather policy for non-essential employees. He sent a group text message to city council members utilizing the seldom called weather policy and limited city services to utility response crews and fire, ambulance and police services. Sanitation services went from an expected delay status to putting workers on street department crews to augment clearing selected collector streets in the city. The mayor told city workers to “stay safe.”
The mayor had the same word for city residents. Although he did not deliver the same message with the passion of his famous coronavirus statement, the more refined weather-related message was the same.
“If you don’t have to get out at this time, don’t get out – stay home,” said McClendon.
The order also specifically closed city hall, the utilities office, the metropolitan planning organization, main street office, parks, non-emergency employees at the police, fire and street departments, animal shelter, convention and visitors bureau, city finance department, and non-essential airport workers.
School districts didn’t give students the day off to frolic like Disney characters in the frozen wonderland. School superintendents
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The main north-south route in West Memphis, Missouri Street, was nearly empty last Thursday afternoon after an ice storm passed through overnight, canceling schools and other events. State, county and city authorities have urged motorists to stay home avoid treacherous frozen driving conditions compounded by heavy snow over the weekend.
Photo by John Rech SCHOOLS
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opted to close the buildings but supply on-line learning for homebound students. Parents had become familiar with the coronavirus nomenclature ‘pivot’ for school district imposed remote learning. Area school districts pivoted to online learning again on Thursday and Friday in wake of the for the ice storm, hoping for return of students to campuses after a couple more weekend days. The subsequent round of snow put schools on remote learning for the balance of this week.
Grocery stores and restaurants announced early closings Thursday evening. Chick-Fil-A closed early Wednesday and Thursday citing safety concerns for its customers and employees. The Marion Marketplace closed at 7 p.m. on Thursday with the same weather related safety concerns. Early closings and late openings at businesses became wide spread as the number of consecutive sub freezing days passed for. The cold snap according to the national weather service was the longest in this area since the 1940’s.
The state highway department embarrassed with no sand during an ice storm five years ago, had its ice fighting supplies stocked up. A few years ago the incline on the Interstate 55 rail overpass near Lakeshore Estate Mobile Home Park was so icy it made national news during the multi-day struggle to open the resulting clogged Interstates of I-55 and I-40. The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ArDOT) subsequently shopped for sand world-wide to avoid a repeat. Ultimately ArDOT sourced its sand purchase in Egypt to stock pile the storage yards ahead of the bad weather season the following year.
ArDOT stood in a more prepared stance for the storm on Thursday morning. Not only was sand available but an ice melting formula of salt water and beet juice was ready to spray. Salt water won’t freeze until 28 degrees. Bridges often freeze before the temperature dips below 32 degrees. ArDOT worked to prepare bridges with its brine and beet juice spray two days before the ice storm hit.
“We’ve been giving it our best shot and we will be out here 24-7 for the next three days doing what we can,” said ArDOT spokesperson David Parker.
Even with the elevated level of road preparation by highway crews, Parker urged motorists to stay home if possible or to slow down and take extra pre-cautions with the slick roads and sidewalks.
County Judge Woody Wheeless surveyed road conditions.
“I’ve been creeping along checking out road conditions,” said Wheeless. “Secondary roads are ice covered.”
County Sheriff Patrol Chief George Blair personified the ice in his humorous plea for drivers to stay home.
“Please don’t go out to see what the roads are like, you will find out they don’t like you,” quipped Blair on social media.
Icy roads are not always seen by drivers. So called ‘black ice’ isn’t really black, but gets its name from being invisible to drivers on asphalt. The typically low levels of noticeable ice pellets, snow, or sleet surrounding black ice means that areas of the ice are often practically invisible to drivers or people stepping on it. The result is an increased risk of slip-sliding out of control and subsequent accident due to the unexpected loss of traction.
The frigid cold snap spiked demand for home energy. Entergy Arkansas posted bulletins and sent texts to customers saying energy supply concerns were real and asked customers to lower thermostats to save energy.
Marion Mayor Frank Fogleman said the cold flirting with zero degree temperatures was the worst winter weather he remembered.
“As far as I’ve experienced this is the longest cold streak and snowiest its ever been, with another five inches expected later this week,” said Fogleman yesterday.
Indeed, overnight lows for the past several days have been in the single digits, even creeping below zero in some areas. Forecasts show the temperature remaining below freezing for the next several days, with the possibility of reaching 36 degrees on Saturday afternoon.