Winter storm slams Arkansas

Winter storm slams Arkansas

A winter storm walloped parts of Arkansas with two feet of snow Wednesday, coming down so fast and so thick that snowplows got stuck in the mess. Two people died in traffic accidents and major highways were choked with abandoned cars after motorists gave up and walked away.
Nathan, Ashley & Natalie (Melissa Baggett )
Nathan, Ashley & Natalie (Melissa Baggett )
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A winter storm walloped parts of Arkansas with two feet of snow Wednesday, coming down so fast and so thick that snowplows got stuck in the mess. Two people died in traffic accidents and major highways were choked with abandoned cars after motorists gave up and walked away.

Businesses closed early, if they opened at all, and a quarter of the state Legislature packed it in for the rest of the week. After a four-hour search, rescuers in mountainous Madison County found a disabled pickup truck with two teenagers inside - safe but chilly.

All that came after forecasters had predicted about half a foot of snow.

"It's like being in a submarine almost," said Capt. Lance King of the Arkansas State Police. "The snow is coming up, and it's blocking the radiator. You come to a stop and you'll lock up. You can't move."

Jackknifed tractor-trailers backed up traffic on the cross-country Interstate 40 and along I-540, part of the main route between Arkansas' major population centers. An online road-conditions map operated by the state highway department showed no routes in white, signifying clear sailing.

"It's in living color today," said David Nilles, a spokesman for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. "It's been awhile since we've had something that affected the whole state."

Snow totals reached 24 inches at Gravette and Hindsville, in the state's northwest, and much of Arkansas' northern tier received more than a foot of snow. When residents awoke Wednesday with snow up to their knees, it was already clear forecasters had missed the mark.

"It's kind of hard to forecast the exact setup of where those heavier bands will be," said David Jankowski of the National Weather Service office in Tulsa, Okla., which handles the forecast for northwestern Arkansas.

Nilles said plow operators who could easily battle a six-inch snowfall had to make pass upon pass to keep a path open. He said he was sure a couple of drivers suffered good-natured ribbing after getting their plows stuck, but "we pulled them out and sent them on their way."

The heavy snow did keep traffic so light that plow operators were able to work relatively quickly, Nilles said.

Among those who did attempt to drive, some gave up and walked to the nearest highway exit or business in the 20-degree temperatures when they couldn't make it any farther, state police spokesman Bill Sadler said. Troopers checked abandoned cars for people, then marked them with yellow stickers.

Two people died in separate crashes. One motorist was killed when a tractor-trailer rig collided with a smaller vehicle just east of Little Rock and the other died in a crash in eastern Arkansas's Monroe County. Details weren't immediately available.

In Little Rock, the 35-member state Senate adjourned until Monday to give senators time to return home. The 100-member House planned to return to the Capitol on Thursday morning.

"I would like to announce that the House and Senate snowball fight scheduled for the south lawn has been canceled because the Senate left," Rep. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, announced on the House floor. Neither chamber had the snowball fight on its agenda.

Gov. Mike Beebe ordered state offices in the Little Rock area to remain closed Thursday.

Search teams swept along snow-covered roads for four hours before they found two teenage boys who went missing in the mountains of northwest Arkansas.

The teens were driving a pickup truck on a slick country road when they got a flat tire Wednesday. Lori McConnell, the emergency coordinator for Madison County, said the boys' cell phone went dead or drifted out of signal after they called their parents about 7:30 a.m. They couldn't tell where they were in the white abyss.

Volunteers in four-wheel drive pickups and SUVs found the boys still in their truck around noon, as authorities were trying to ping their cell phone. The parents were notified quickly.

The snow in northwest Arkansas piled atop that left from a Feb. 1 blizzard that dropped nearly a foot on the area. On a side street from U.S. 71 in Fayetteville, a truck with oversized tires plowed its way down the road, leaving behind tire ruts 18 inches deep.

National Guard troops from Bentonville and Fayetteville helped out with Humvees, assisting stranded motorists and looking for signs that drivers that might have gone off the road. Arkansas National Guard spokesman Capt. Chris Heathscott says 50 soldiers and 25 Humvees deployed.

Highway crews and police officers implored residents to stay inside. School districts called off classes for Wednesday and Thursday and a number of churches canceled their Wednesday night services.

Rob Cork, an Englishman who with his wife Dawn operates a tea room in Siloam Springs, peered out his window Wednesday and couldn't find a soul trudging about in knee-high snow.

"It kills business, but looks fantastic," said Cork, who in previous years discovered that most Arkansans just stay inside when the weather turns this nasty.

"This year, when it snowed, we just shut the doors," he said.

A few blocks away, a diner called it quits due to the weather too.

"We can't make it in today since the snow is so deep!" the Cafe on Broadway posted on its website. "If roads get cleared, we might come in this afternoon. Be safe! No cars should be driving in this. You WILL get stuck!"

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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