Southeast Arkansas braces for icy impact

Icy weather remains on track for an early Friday morning arrival in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County. The forecast has prompted a broad mobilization of local, county and state agencies who are ready to take on the worst that Mother Nature has to offer.

“Rain is expected to switch over to freezing rain in Pine Bluff sometime just after sunrise Friday,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Willie Gilmore. “Once it begins the freezing rain is expected to last through mid- to late-afternoon with ice accumulations ranging from one-quarter inch to one half inch.”

Gilmore said the Friday high temperature in Pine Bluff will occur before sunrise with temperatures falling into the upper 20s by Friday evening.

“Saturday night into Sunday another round of winter weather will affect primarily Southeast Arkansas with another tenth of an inch to a quarter inch of ice possible in the Pine Bluff area,” Gilmore said. “The temperatures will be cold enough so that the precipitation will stick on roadways as well as trees and power lines.”

Jefferson County Judge Dutch King said Thursday that the county road department is ready to tackle the inclement weather.

“I am always really leery of an ice storm,” King said. “We have our trucks and other equipment ready to put stuff on the bridges. We have done everything that we can to be ready for it. The most important thing for people to remember is that if you don’t have an absolute need to get out on the roads stay off of them.”

King said 35 personnel and a fleet of 25 trucks will be working throughout the storm to keep bridges safe.

The Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management and the Southeast Arkansas Chapter of the American Red Cross are both critical components of any local response effort.

“We make the decision to open shelters when we see the need is out there such as when we see that a number of power outages have occurred and we get calls from a number of people saying that they are cold,” said OEM coordinator Karen Quarles. “We then contact the Red Cross and they coordinate all shelter operations.”

Quarles said the Pine Bluff Convention Center is the primary shelter location during emergencies because of its central location in town.

“The Convention Center is on standby if we determine that a shelter need exists,” Quarles said.

Randye Carter, public relations officer for American Red Cross Disaster Services, said her organization is well trained for the situation.

“All of our disaster volunteers are trained throughout the year,” Carter said. “So we aren’t going into this blind. All of us have been called and put on alert due to the impending bad weather. We have a list drawn up of where each person will be stationed and what each disaster volunteer will be doing. We are prepared and ready to feed, shelter and take care of the immediate needs of everyone who may come to our shelter.”

Carter said the Red Cross has agreements with numerous locations to serve as shelters if needed.

The Office of Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth announced late Thursday that city government will be closed Friday.