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Past snowfall marks for Searcy expected to stand, but data not in yet

Possibly all of the records for temperature and snowfall in Searcy are expected to stand, although the National Weather Service in North Little Rock has not received official numbers yet, according to meteorologist Erik Green.

Green said the weather service has not been filled in too well during this week’s weather event by its current observers for Searcy.

“They are located at the water plant, so the observers are employees of the water plant and are probably a little busy at the moment so they couldn’t fill me in on all the data at the moment,” he said. “So some of these records may not be completely representative given the activity that just unfolded.”

“The period of record for Searcy is quite extensive. It goes back to 1892 to the present so a lot of these can be taken statistically meaningful.”

Green said the maximum seven-day snowfall record for Searcy is recorded at 17 inches at that end date was Jan. 16, 1918.

“For comparison for a local storm report we did issue, the two-storm total through the week from a social media was reported to be 11 inches. So the 11 inches is not quite close to the record of 17.”

The five-day maximum is “still only 15 inches” for Searcy, Green noted. “The end date for that was Feb. 22, 1921. The single-date maximum snowfall may tie this previous week depending on what our observer can fill us in on. It is currently 11 inches, so it is probably tied or just under or over and that date is Jan. 11, 1918.”

According to information provided by the weather service, it would take 11 inches to make the top 10 for five-day snowfall and 7 to reach the top 10 for one-day snowfall.

“As far as temperatures go, the single-day minimum temperature record for Searcy is currently listed as negative-20 and best as I can remember from earlier this week, I don’t think we got close to that up around Searcy,” Green said. “Again, that date was Jan. 12, 1918.”

The seven-day “minimum mean temperatures, the mean low temperatures through a week, is currently listed as 1.1 degrees and that end date is Jan. 18, 1918,” Green said. “A lot of these come from what looks like a prolific cold snap back in the early ‘20s.

“The five-day mean minimum temperature is negative-1.2 degrees Fahrenheit where the end date was Jan. 15, 1918.”

Green said he is curious to find out from the Searcy weather observer whether Searcy got closer to any of the above mentioned figures.

“I don’t know if if was that cold for that long up there [in Searcy] but it is probably up there and it maybe in the top 10 depending on how bad it was,” he said.

The two snowstorms registered as “a wow factor” at the National Weather Service, according to Green.

“If you look climatological for all of our official climate reporting stations, the normal snowfall here and there and not even every day is a tenth of an inch and so you have these days that you are reporting 7 to 8 inches of daily snow fall and you’re shattering daily snowfall records, it is definitely a wow factor,” he said. “And then when you look at a map of estimated storm totals snowfall and there is a swath anywhere from 15 to 20 inches across south-central Arkansas in late February, it’s definitely a wow factor. It is not a yearly thing for this part of the country.”

This year is a La Nina year, Green explained. “The general pattern is drier and warmer but it is also accompanied by extreme events. Here you go, we have had some pretty significant severe weather over parts of the far southeast and pretty much the entire part of the country has seen extremely anomalous cold and in some parts of the far southern parts, they are seeing anomalous snowfall that normally they wouldn’t be receiving.”

Green said La Nina “sets up when in the central-eastern Pacific there are colder that normal sea surface temperatures. So, you look off the coast over there in northwestern South America, right around the Panama area, and you go west along the equator, here are colder than normal sea surface temperatures. And it sets up a prevailing wind pattern that is more conducive for warmer and generally drier winters. It is also a pattern that if everything sets up in your favor, you can get extreme events.”

Green said that today and Sunday, Searcy will be looking at maximum temperatures “well over freezing” that should erase most of the evidence of this extreme event.

Searcy Mayor Kyle Osborne was back on his tractor Friday helping getting Searcy streets cleared off. In over 30 years of working for the city, Osborne said he has never seen snow events like this week’s storms. “Absolutely, never,” he said.

Osborne spent 30 years with the Searcy Police Department and is in his second year as mayor. “The ice and the snow on top of the ice and the snow packing has just made everything so slick. We got everything that we can possibly use trying to clear these streets.”

He said Arch Avenue “is terrible. A lot of the side streets that are getting a lot of use, the snow is packed, so it’s a 3-inch sheet of ice and there is very little we can do with that. We are able to salt and sand and grade and try to stay ahead of the city streets.”

In addition to Arch, Osborne said he also went out to the Lambert Terrace area to help get areas cleared off. “The ice is packed so hard,” he said. “At least I can get the snow off the road so the sun can melt the ice.”

Osborne said he can’t wait for “some 40-degree temperatures and sunshine.”

Because of the snow and ice, Osborne said the city kept its offices closed except for “essential personnel.”

“Anytime something this significant happens, it impacts the city,” he said, adding that he heard a lot about retailers having “trouble getting trucks into their businesses with stock.”

Searcy Fire Chief Brian Dunavan said in all of his years working for the fire department, it’s noteworthy that “as far as I know, this is the longest the city departments, other than police, fire and streets have been shut down. Streets have been out doing a good job clearing stuff. City Hall, I think has been closed for over a week now and I think that is the longest they have been shut down.”

White County Judge Michael Lincoln said he feels Arkansas weathered “weathered the storm pretty well” compared to other states.

“I think it appeared overall that most of our citizens took heed and prepared in advance for supplies, which is a real credit to our citizens,” Lincoln said.

“For the most part our citizens have been very understanding about the issues with roads. I am glad the sun is out and am glad that maybe by Monday the snow will be off of our roads. Our guys have been out working. We are trying to open up the main thoroughfares, the roads that connect highways. We can’t get off on the side roads.”

Lincoln said he was talking to Osborne and they agreed that you try to prepare the best you can, “but for something like this, there really is no preparation.”

In all his years in the county, Lincoln said he can’t remember a similar winter weather event. “I think maybe back in the late ‘80s we had a similar situation, but this is an event that happens every 10 to 15 years.”

Dunavan said although there have been several vehicle accidents, it hasn’t really been more than normal.

“Today [Friday afternoon], I think we have had more accidents than anything, cars off to where we have had to help them get out,” he said. “It has not been real bad [overall].People pretty much stayed at home for the most part.

Asked about the trouble spots in town, Dunavan said the main thoroughfares, like Booth Road and Benton Street, have been the worst parts, “where they meet.” He said Race Avenue, Beebe-Capps Expressway and Main Street were pretty well clear” Friday.

White County Sheriff Phillip Miller said, “We kind of really got a 1-2-3 punch between ice and two rounds of snow back to back, so we are seeing some historic and record-setting snowfall amounts.”

“The call volume has just been unbelievable. The majority of our calls have to do with road conditions or vehicles that are stranded in the roadway, but we are still getting the same calls for non-traffic-related incidents, domestic violence calls, that sort of thing.”

Miller said keeping the roads cleared has been a challenge. Miller said Holmes Road, Fairview Road and Main Street north of the Arkansas Highway 13 bypass always stand out as pretty significant roads that are challenges during weather times like this. Blue Hole Road, between McRae and Beebe. in the county was another troublesome road that Miller brought up.

Even as the roads thaw and with crews trying to clear them, Miller said there are still going to be areas that have patches of ice and snow on them.

“Just because the road is clear in one spot, doesn’t mean you can drive like normal,” he said. “Always be looking ahead for those shaded areas that have remaining ice and snow on them.”

All of the officers have vehicles that are four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive and go through a defensive driving course, Miller said they also do an emergency operations course.

“When we have inclement weather like this, slow down and navigate well,” he said. “I think as many calls as we have responded to in the past seven days, I think the deputies have done a great job of responding without putting anyone in danger. Even through the inclement weather, deputies are making it in to work. We are still out there 24-7.”

Flave Carpenter, a spokesman for Entergy in the Searcy area, said mostly there were relatively few outages this week and there weren’t any more “rolling blackouts” after ones earlier in the week with about 4,300 customers affected for a time.

“From our perspective, our customers did an excellent job of complying with our plea for conservation, so that lowered the risk for any type of rolling blackout,” Carpenter said. “It was a relatively calm event outside of a few extenuating circumstances.

“We haven’t seen anything like this in 100 years.”

Towing tough sledding when ice, snow hit

Robert and Danica O’Dell call their tow truck drivers “problem solvers,” and they had a lot of problems to solve this week, including some that they couldn’t completely.

The O’Dells, who own and operate O’Dell Towing and Roadside and Towmater Towing Service in Searcy, spoke to The Daily Citizen about what tow truck drivers have experienced out on Searcy streets and White County roads during last week’s ice storm and this week’s two snowstorms.

Robert gets out and makes calls when he is needed, especially in weather like this week’s. He said getting to the scene is difficult because that is what got their customers stuck in the first place and what his drivers have to drive through to get there. Typically, Robert said the most calls they have received were for “winch-outs.”

Holmes Road was a problem area where, Robert said, “there were even some times ... where we just had to say, ‘We will try to help you out but we can’t get your car out at this time.’ That road was a bad one until the roads got better.

“Most of the time we were able to get to them [the customers] and get the vehicle out. We would typically have them unstuck in 20 minutes.”

Questioned about whether cars or trucks had the most problem with getting stuck on the road or landing in ditches, Robert said “what we dealt with a lot were rear-wheel drive trucks and just regular sedans and cars.”

There were even situations this week, Robert said, where their own trucks got stuck on the road, trying to get to customers.

“When you have ice on top of snow and more snow, that’s what happens,” he said. “It’s not your typical weather that we deal with here so you know it’s bad when a towing company is getting their trucks stuck. It is bad that way but we just have to make due and figure out how to make it work.”

Robert and Danica said the reason they call their drivers “problem solvers” is because “everything that they get, as far as calls, is a problem.”

“We send that guy out there and he has to figure out how to solve that problem when he gets there,” Robert said. “We want them to know that is what we expect and that is what kind of results we expect.”

The five drivers the O’Dells employ go through training and are certified. Some of the training is online, but “once you get up to a certain level like operating the heavy wreckers and stuff, that’s all in person,” Robert said. “That way when we send somebody out, we know they aren’t going to tear up somebody’s car.”

A special license in Arkansas is not technically needed to operate a tow truck, he said, but background checks and drug tests are performed.

Even the best of drivers, though, encounter roads that are “unpassable,” like certain back roads in the county have been.

“If we got call after call after call on a certain road, we knew that we didn’t need to go down that road because if it’s so slick,” Robert said. “Even with our chains that we had – we had every truck outfitted with tire chains – there’s just certain situations that are just unsafe.”

He said the biggest mistake drivers make in getting out when the roads are like they have been this week is “getting out in it if you don’t have to, that is probably this first thing you shouldn’t do.”

Robert said that it is not the day of the bad weather when their tow truck companies are “super busy,” but the day after when more drivers venture out on the slick roads.

“The reason why is people assume the roads are better and that’s where they get going too fast and getting too confident, that’s where we see more wrecks than the day of the bad weather.,” Danica said, “because it is refrozen overnight.”

Robert said the second biggest mistake drivers make is that “people drive too fast. They don’t realize that going is not near the problem as stopping.”

Robert mentioned the 130-plus-vehicle pileup on Interstate 35 Texas on Feb. 11 in which six people were killed and dozen others were injured.

“It wasn’t a going problem. They had plenty of go. They were all doing 70 miles an hour down the freeway,” he said. “It was a stopping problem.

"Everything is great you can go, but when you hit ice, there is no stopping; it doesn’t matter how many wheels, how many four-wheel drive, eight-wheel drive, ... it ain’t going to stop.”

He said with two-truck drivers having to go out into those situations, “I’m sure you’re always going to have a little bit of anxiousness.”

Danica added, “Our dispatchers do a really good job of making sure that they are aware of what the situation is and where they need to be when they come to a stop.”

“Sometimes we have just been able to get the passengers on the highway,” she said. “It is not necessarily that we can make it safe to move that vehicle; it’s not safe for our driver right then, but as long as we are getting those passengers with those children out of the way, ... that had just happened in the last few days, and that is the No. 1 priority obviously.”

The O’Dells’ tow companies had fielded and responded to 250 calls for service this week as of Friday afternoon.

Robert said he thinks everybody says, “’Don’t go out if you don’t have to’ but I think people have become numb to that because you know they want a pizza. People driving too fast ... just because you can go that fast doesn’t mean you should.”

He said there have also been cases with some who want to go out and get their nails done in bad weather. “I’m not kidding,” he said. “The stories of why people were out would blow your mind.”

Despite the difficult-driving conditions, Robert said the accidents during this weather spell have not been as bad as they have been in the past.

“The winch-outs are what we are doing the most of. We wouldn’t do as much of those if people would just slow down,” he said. “On my way in today [Wednesday], I was driving on the freeway – the right lane was clear, the left lane was not. The people in the right lane were doing 45, which is a reasonable speed in this kind of weather. There was a guy that came by probably at 60 [mph] on a completely ice-covered left lane, passed everybody.

“It will be bad when people do this just like in Texas. When they have to stop and they can’t, it’s going to be bad. If you see them in the next ditch, there’s going to be an ambulance on the way soon. It’s not going to be, ‘We slid off in the ditch, oh crap, come get us out.’ What they don’t understand is that if somebody pulled out in front of them, it doesn’t matter. You have to worry about the other people on the road.”

Danica said she and Robert have talked often recently about how surprising it is to them that drivers don’t know to “just not use the brakes.”

“It’s a huge problem,” Danica said. “You are much better off to let off completely and if it is safe, to shift over to a grassy area, something like that, rather than to hit those brakes where you are spinning and losing control and hitting lots of other people in the process.”

Cruise control is another big concern on icy roads, Robert said.. “People will use cruise control when they think they are fine and then they hit that [black] ice and that’s when they will spin because the car doesn’t know it shouldn’t be given a gas speed and that’s where they get out of control, so people definitely don’t need to use cruise control.”

When asked if they ever had to respond to a fatal accident, Robert said “we only had one where they were in the car when we got there, that we beat the ambulance.” Danica said they do offer counseling to their employees and trauma therapy “if things like this happen.”

2017 drug cases resolved with Searcy 38-year-old receiving five years in Arkansas Community Correction

A 38-year-old Searcy resident caught up in a drug sting in 2017 was sentenced earlier this month in White County Circuit Court to five years in Arkansas Community Correction for selling methamphetamine to an informant and another drug-related crime that year.

Brandon Marshall Miller pleaded guilty in a negotiated deal Feb. 4 to delivery of less than 2 grams of a schedule II controlled substance, namely meth, a class C felony, and three charges of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. He was also fined $1,060, and he received 83 days of jail credit. Miller has been in the White County jail since Dec. 11.

The delivery charge was for an offense Jan. 24, 2017. The possession charges (less than 2 grams of oxycodone, less than 2 grams of morphine and less than 200 grams of valium with the purpose to deliver) were from a June 22, 2017, incident.

In the January incident, the Central Arkansas Drug Task Force set up a controlled buy in the parking lot of the Best Western hotel on Willow Street.

“The informant was provided with a recording equipment and buy money,” Investigator Jordan Tucker wrote in the affidavit. “Miller was seen getting into the vehicle where the purchase was made.”

The substance reportedly field-tested positive as meth.

That June, Searcy police officers were investigating “possible drug activity” in the area of 1716 Market Ave.

Officers Don Davis and Michael Mosher made contact with Miller and learned that Miller had an active warrant from the state Parole Board for absconding.

Davis reportedly searched Miller and found several prescription pill bottles without labels, clear glass bottles and pills.

Davis contacted Josh King with the Central Arkansas Drug Task Force, according to the affidavit. King found that the tablets were packaged separately in four bottles and he used drugs.com to identify them.

In a separate drug case, Joshua Jay Rowe, 29, of Searcy received five years of probation after pleading guilty Feb. 3 to tampering with physical evidence, a class D felony; possession of a controlled substance, namely methamphetamine, a class D felony; and possession of drug paraphernalia with the purpose to inhale methamphetamine, a class D felony. Rowe also was fined $1,655.

He was arrested May 17, 2019, by the CADTF after a traffic stop near Arkansas Highway 13 and U.S. Highway 67/167 in White County. He reportedly was observed to have thrown a glass pipe out his vehicle window.

According to the affidavit, Rowe’s vehicle contained a black pouch which held multiple plastic baggies, a piece of straw with an off-white crystal residue and a plastic baggie containing an off-white crystal-like substance suspected to be methamphetamine.

Beebe School District plans to hold two outdoor ceremonies for graduation May 21

The Beebe School District is planning to get back outside this May for its graduation ceremonies, although it won’t hold be able to hold just one ceremony, according to Superintendent Dr. Chris Nail.

Nail informed the Beebe School Board last week that graduation will take place on the football field with two ceremonies set for May 21, unless things change.

“We still can’t do it in one ceremony,” he said. “I know you want to but we can’t right now.”

In case of rain – “a gully washer,” Nail said – the ceremonies will take place in the auditorium and follow COVID-19 safety guideline like the district did with last year’s graduations. The district held three indoor ceremonies in 2020 on one day in July.

Nail said Beebe has 231 seniors this year.

As of now, Nail said, the district has not been cleared to have a prom this school year. He said he has been taking with Chris Ellis, athletic director/safety director, about the idea of having a banquet where the students could get dressed up, be social distanced and still have something nice as a senior class. Curriculum and Instruction Director Holly Glover said typically it takes two weeks to get guidelines for an event.

In other School Board items, contracts were renewed through June 30, 2023 for assistant superintendents Dr. Rick Duff and Dr. Scott Embrey. It also was announced that Mike Tarkington will be retiring from his positions of human resources and district testing coordinator June 30. Art Bell will transfer from junior high principal to director of Human Resources/Legal Affairs/Federal and Categorical Programs, effective July 1.

New contracts were also announced for Tate Benton, senior football defensive coordinator, effective Feb 9; Allison Shuttleworth, K-6 assistant curriculum director, effective July 1; Amanda Lewis, 7-12 assistant curriculum, effective July 1; Stefanie Harris, early childhood/middle school art teacher, effective July 1; Caitlyn Vogt, early childhood assistant principal, effective July 1; and Zeb Prothro, middle school assistant principal, effective July 1.