LITTLE ROCK — A late-season winter storm spread freezing rain, sleet and snow across the state Sunday night and early Monday, making travel conditions hazardous and leaving thousands of Arkansas without power.
Temperatures stayed below freezing in most of the state Monday, but a thaw was expected Tuesday in all but the northeastern corner of the state, the National Weather Service said.
Temperatures are expected to rise gradually through the week, according to the weather service.
The Arkansas State Police responded to numerous crashes and stranded motorists Sunday and Monday. Bruce Kanki, 35, of Springdale was killed Sunday night when a vehicle he was riding in as a passenger went out of control on a snowy curve and struck a guardrail and a retaining wall on Interstate 540 in Benton County, according to a state police report.
Johnny Hefner, 35, of Wynne was killed Sunday night when he lost control of the vehicle he was driving on an icy stretch of Arkansas 1 on Poinsett County and spun into the oncoming lane, where he collided with another vehicle, state police said.
Spokesman Bill Sadler said that at one point Monday traffic was backed up for more than 10 miles near West Memphis because of two commercial carrier trucks that stalled on ice.
“Travel is still dicey at best in most parts of the state,” Sadler said Monday.
Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department spokesman David Nilles said crews had been working nonstop since Sunday to prepare for and respond to the severe weather. He said workers pre-treated bridges and overpasses to combat ice, although “unfortunately it started out as heavy rain, which makes it difficult to pre-treat because it washes off.”
AHTD crews were out across the state Monday with snow plows and trucks spreading sand and a chemical de-icing mix, Nilles said.
“The only areas that haven’t been affected are in the southwest corner and the southeast corner,” he said. “Pretty much everything else has some ice on it, either completely covered or dealing with patchy places.”
Nilles also noted Monday that “anything that melts today will probably re-freeze tonight, making [Tuesday] morning a challenge too.”
Gov. Mike Beebe responded to the hazardous travel conditions by ordering state offices in Little Rock to close until noon Tuesday.
Entergy Arkansas reported on its website that 27,600 of its customers lost power because of the storm but that by late afternoon workers had reduced that number to 15,870.
The company said it expected to have power restored for most customers by late Tuesday, although it would be late Wednesday before service was restored in some of the hardest-hit areas in eastern Arkansas, including Phillips, Crittenden, Mississippi, Saint Francis and Craighead counties.
Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas reported that about 7,650 of its customers were without power by late Monday afternoon and that the target date for having all power restored was Thursday. The hardest-hit areas were in Woodruff, Craighead and Mississippi counties.