Remembering the Ice Storm of 2009

Thursday, January 31, 2019
Like the utility poles and power lines, these pecan trees couldn't withstand the weight of the ice which fell during the storm of 2009.
TD photo/Tim Blair

This week marks the 10th anniversary of one of the worst ice storms in the nation's history, and Clay County bore the brunt. True to forecasters promises, the perfect mix of moisture and approaching cold air came together on Tuesday, Jan, 27, 2009, and crippled the region for weeks.

Beginning as cold rain, the freezing precipitation began to coat trees and power lines during the afternoon hours, and by nightfall widespread outages were being reported. Later that evening the last of the regional substations was knocked-off, and the area was plunged into darkness—punctuated only by the noise of limbs cracking under the weight of the ice.

Wednesday morning brought with it bright sunshine, illuminating the broken and frozen world which had taken on a surreal look. In the days to come the temperatures rebounded, allowing for crews to begin the process of cleaning up and restoring power. But, the majority of local residents remained without power for about two weeks, while others stayed in the dark for up to three weeks. In rural areas there were some pockets which waited even longer, as most of the grid had to be completely rebuilt.

But, the ice storm also brought with it a sense of community, and cooperation, as businesses and individuals reached-out to help those in need. Shelters were set up at the courthouses and community centers, and mass feeding operations were hastily planned to help with those unable to remain in their homes. Local businesses, shut down due to the lack of power, used their products and resources to help with the response.

In response to the emergency, Gov. Mike Beebe flew into the Piggott airport with a contingent from Little Rock, arriving in National Guard Blackhawk helicopters due to the road conditions. There he met with the mayors of Piggott, Rector and Corning along with those of many of the smaller towns in the county.

While the power remained out, area supermarkets did what they could-allowing a handful of customers in at a time, shopping with flashlights and using cash or check due to the lack of electronic cash registers.

At the peak of the outages officials estimated over 360,000 regional residents were without power, and a total of 18 deaths were blamed on the ice storm in Arkansas. Among them was a local woman, although family members noted they were unsure if she had succumbed due to the storm and lack of power. She was found sitting in a tub of water, and may have succumbed to hypothermia while trying to stay warm. Otherwise, most of those who lost their lives were fell by carbon monoxide poisoning due to efforts to heat homes, and the Trumann police chief was killed when he was struck by a falling limb while working during the storm.

Officials with the regional electric cooperatives, Entergy and local utilities reported over 8,000 power poles were destroyed, while others were weakened. Of the substations serving the cooperatives of Northeast Arkansas, the only one unaffected was in Crittenden County—which missed the brunt of the ice storm.

In the decade since the ice storm of 2009, utility officials have taken a more aggressive approach in winter preparation, most notably when it comes to tree and limb trimming programs. The storm also prompted more municipalities, and individuals, to seek alternative power for this type of emergency, such as stand-by generators. Although the impact was great, and the cost in the millions, the lessons learned during the ice storm of 2009 continue to serve the residents of Northeast Arkansas, and Clay County, today.

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