A tractor-trailer sits off the road with its cab slid over the ditch and into the field next to the southbound lane of U.S. 65 on Tuesday as icy road conditions plague the area. (Special to the Commercial/William Harvey)
Vehicles sit in the ditch along U.S. 65 after road conditions became dangerous with ice buildup Tuesday. (Special to the Commercial/William Harvey)
Freezing rain and sleet drizzled onto Pine Bluff and Jefferson County on Tuesday, tapering off in the afternoon and ending by early evening, but leaving numerous vehicles in ditches.
National Weather Service Meteorologist John Lewis warned that the biggest problems for motorists would be bridges and overpasses. Law enforcement and wrecking services responded to calls of people sliding off roadways — especially along Interstate 530 and U.S. 65 — all afternoon Tuesday.
Lewis said the most significant problems could occur Wednesday morning because low temperatures overnight were expected to be in the mid-20s.
“You’re probably going to get some refreezing because everywhere it’s wet is going to refreeze,” Lewis said.
The Pine Bluff School District dismissed school at 12:30 p.m. because of the weather, while Watson Chapel Schools dismissed students in the elementary schools at noon and the junior and senior high schools at 1 p.m.
Schools in the White Hall District dismissed students at 11:45 a.m., and schools in the Dollarway District also closed.
Evening classes at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff were also cancelled.
Jefferson County Judge Dutch King closed the county courthouse and sent employees home just after 11 a.m. Tuesday because of the inclement conditions, and Pine Bluff city offices closed at noon.
“I talked to MECA (Metropolitan Emergency Communications Association) and the sheriff’s office and just didn’t want to take a chance on anybody getting hurt,” King said about the closing.
He said road department employees had been out all day “and will be well into the night trying to take care of what we need to take care of.
“I think we’re supposed to be alright tomorrow, but it’s tonight that we’re worrying about,” King said
Office of Emergency Management Deputy Coordinator Melinda Elliott said numerous vehicles had slid off area highways.
“We’ve had all kinds of accidents with people sliding on the ice,” Elliott said. “An 18-wheeler carrying milk turned over on Highway 65 at the curve near Celia Road at 4:05 p.m. this afternoon.”
Major Lafayette Woods Jr., operations commander of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, said deputies had not worked any major traffic accidents in which the cars collided with each other by late afternoon Tuesday, but was aware of at least one vehicle that had slipped into a ditch in the Sulphur Springs area. Woods said they were fielding many calls reporting slick spots on the roadways and forwarding them to the county road department so that sand and salt could be applied.
“We’ve told our deputies to get in one centralized location in their zones and not to do a lot of driving unless they have to,” Woods said. “With these conditions, we’re going to answer calls but we’re not going to be doing a lot of patrolling.”
A dispatcher at MECA said Tuesday afternoon that the Cotton Belt Overpass was closed for a time Tuesday morning because of the hazardous conditions but reopened after road department personnel applied sand to it. All other streets in the city, including the 28th Street Overpass were also reported open early Tuesday afternoon.
Also, the regular scheduled meeting of the Pine Bluff School District Board of Directors that had been scheduled for Tuesday night was cancelled. That meeting was rescheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday.
Looking ahead, Lewis said temperatures on Wednesday would be in the low- to mid-40s, and by Thursday, the upper 40s to possible 50 degrees.
Further south, Lewis said the biggest problem has been freezing rain, causing ice on trees and power lines and resulting in power outages, particularly in Ashley and Chicot counties, and icy conditions on roadways.
“This afternoon, the freezing rain should change to rain down there and the major arteries will just be wet,” he said late Tuesday morning.
Temperatures in Southeast Arkansas are also expected to reach the 40s by Wednesday.
Sheridan Police Chief Bob Adams said Tuesday afternoon that rain had replaced the ice that the city saw earlier in the day, and that a “few accidents had been reported, one directly related to the weather. We had a car slide off into a creek.”
The Desha County Sheriff’s Office reported that roads had iced over and accidents had been reported on the Pickens Bridge on U.S. 65 Tuesday. Both the McGehee and Dumas school districts dismissed students early.
In Cleveland County, the Sheriff’s Office reported slick spots on roadways and icy bridges. Two weather-related accidents had been reported by 12:30 p.m. The Rison and Woodlawn school districts dismissed early.
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office reported sleet-covered roadways early but that had changed to rain by 12:30 p.m. A couple of accidents that could have been weather-related had been reported and the Star City School District dismissed students early Tuesday.
In Arkansas County, the sheriff’s office reported three weather-related accidents, one of which resulted in two injuries, that had occurred by 12:30 p.m. The Stuttgart and DeWitt school districts dismissed students early.
— Staff Writers Rick Joslin and Michael S. Lee contributed to this report.