Around 500 Entergy Arkansas customers in the Providence area experienced a power outage Monday “that lasted much of the day,” while rolling blackouts in the state Tuesday affected a little more than 4,300 customers in White County, according to Entergy spokesman Flave Carpenter.
Carpenter said as of Wednesday afternoon that he didn’t know if the rolling blackouts would also be necessary that night as snow continued to fall from the winter storm that started Sunday night and blanketed several states. He specifically mentioned a circuit in the Griffithville area when discussing Tuesday’s blackout, in which “we had a little over 60,000 customers that we took out between 7 and 9 p.m. statewide.
“They just identified circuits within the state,” Carpenter said. “They take them out for about 30 minutes. You take them out for 30 and turn them back on and what that does is, it just relieves the total load and reduces the potential for damage to the system.”
He said the outage Monday was “on a circuit up toward Providence from the northeast side of Bald Knob.”
“We were just having some problems with the load on that circuit. It kept overloading the circuit so it took us most of the day to get everything closed back in on it,” he said. ... Outside of that, we haven’t had a whole lot other than just a few spotty outages.”
Carpenter explained that the rolling blackouts were needed because “what happens is in this case, because of the extreme cold weather, you’ve got so much load on the grid, so much more than normal. It would kind of be like if we were in 105-degree temperatures and everybody is running their air conditioners at the same time. It would be similar to that, so you have to get into a protective mode to keep from damaging devices.”
“What happens is, when you have that much load on the lines, the lines can overheat and actually melt and break. So you can have damage to lines to transformers to fuses to all kinds of equipment,” he said. “You have to get into a protective mode so what you do, in this case, we are directed by our regional transmission authority, which is the Mid Independent Continent System Operator. MISO handles all the generation and transmission for a 17-state area, essentially from Mexico to Canada. What they do is they monitor the generation of all those areas so essentially it’s the central funnel of the United States.”
He said because what is happening is far beyond normal, it is making energy conservation a must.
“We have never seen temperatures like this on the Gulf Coast [record-breaking lows in the 20s]. You saw the snow that piled up in Houston, along the coast to New Orleans. That’s stuff that hadn’t been seen in over 100 years,” Carpenter said. “Certainly, a hundred years ago we didn’t have the grid and the electricity need obviously, but now with everyone relying on it, it has just become so heavily focused on the needs that people have to understand that even by conserving, which we have asked customers to do through Thursday night, even with conserving you still have so much load on the grid that there is still some potential to damage it. So what happens is, is that MISO from the 10,000-foot view looks at where all the load is and where the transfers are and what they try to do is they try to relieve areas of greatest needs, so what they do is just take circuits off a little at a time.”
Carpenter said because “we are in a conservation period through Thursday ... everything is on the table [concerning more rolling blackouts being necessary] because that’s how the load words. MISO is the one that indicates it will start and then we have a list to take circuits down.”
He said ways customers can help conserve energy is first, “turn your thermostat to 68 degrees and just try to maintain that. Myself, I have a programable thermostat in my house so I have it at 68 during the day and then at night, it goes to 62 to reduce it even further. You make sure you have some energy-efficient fans that can circulate air within your house. Make sure your ceiling fans are turned the proper way, clockwise in the wintertime so it doesn’t blow cold air on you. It circulates the warm air up and around. Don’t use your heavy appliances during the day, washer, dryer. Keep your refrigerator closed. Try to stay away from the oven and that kind of stuff. Make sure you keep your doors closed as much as possible. A lot of in and out causes the air in your house to fluctuate. So just watch that.”
Another tip from Carpenter is that if the sun is out during the day, open the blinds up and let the sun in to help assist in heating the house, and then at night, close the blinds and cover the windows with drapes to prevent any heat loss during the evening.
The last time Carpenter said he remembers rolling blackouts having to be used is “maybe some 20-some odd years ago. We had some issues where we did this with some large industrial customers, but I have never seen it across customer classes like this.”
After the cold, ice and snow make their way out of the state, he said things should get back to normal but as a rule, customers can continue to help by keeping thermostats at 68 during the day. If a customer has the ability to run it at 62, Carpenter said “that really saves you money. Your bill, for every degree you go over 68 degrees, your bill could increase by as much as 3 percent per degree so just try to keep your thermostat set at 68 during the wintertime.”
Another tip he gave was not to use heavy appliances between 7 and 10 in the morning and between 4 and 7 at night. “Just try to stay away from those times for heavy use. People get home for work or they get ready for work and that is when all the usage occurs so try to keep it as low during those periods as possible.”
If customers do have an outage, Carpenter said, they should call it in at 800-968-8243. If there is damage from an outage, that should be reported too. He said that would include downed lines, a blown transformer fuse, a burning transformer or anything on fire. “Anything that you see is helpful so that when the phone center gets that information they can add that to the ticket as it is dispatched.”
The inclement weather has been affecting some students in White County when it comes to having electricity to do their schoolwork on home computers.
“We had several households without power for extended periods Tuesday,” White County Central School District Superintendent Dean Stanley said. “We are definitely being flexible in allowing our students ample time to complete work due to the many obstacles they have been facing during this time.”
Public schools in the county have not held on-campus classes this week because of the snowstorms, transitioning to virtual teaching, which the districts have been doing anyway this school year for some students because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Searcy, Bald Knob, Beebe, Pangburn, Rose Bud, Bradford and Riverview school districts have announced that they will remain closed to on-site learning for the rest of the week.
Riverview Superintendent Stan Stratton said that has been “going as you would expect ... for the most part.
“There have been a few issues with staff and or students losing power or internet,” Stratton said. “We’ve had experience with virtual, but this is the first time using for snow days and unfortunately, it’s been an extended time. Overall, it’s [the experience with virtual has] made a bad situation better.”
Rose Bud Superintendent Allen Blackwell said his district has also had “several” students having “issues with getting online.” He said the district is “in the process of buying additional hot spots to help with those.” However, he had not heard yet about any power issues.
“Weather is keeping us from completing the district basketball tournament, a few frozen pipes, but all in all we are doing the best we can be expected,” Blackwell said. “Hopefully, we will be back in school next Monday!”
Searcy school/community coordinator Betsy Bailey said “when our students are having difficulties, they are letting their principals know that they have internet issues and our principals are ensuring that they let the teachers of those students know so they can give them extra time.”
“As far as our [school] network, we are all good,” Bailey said. “As far as our network, we have had no problems unless the students on their own networks are having issues.”
Bald Knob School District Superintendent Melissa Gipson said “Bald Knob students and staff are taking this opportunity to enjoy the snow and remote learning. Like other districts across the state, inclement weather has caused some obstacles with power and internet; however, our teachers are problem-solving daily to overcome any challenges that arise.”
“Erin Miller, a middle school teacher, put it best. ‘We, like all schools, right now are having issues between power and the internet, but our teachers are constantly shifting and adjusting to be the best help and benefit to students (and families) as possible,” Gipson said. “We are understanding of the issues and grateful that we can connect with those available. We are eager to get back to [school] to see their faces.”
Teachers in Bald Knob are utilizing a variety of technology to maintain communication with their students, including phones, Google Classroom, Google Meets, personalized video instruction and Seesaw, she said.
“Some parents have expressed delight in being able to enjoy the snow while also engaging in remote learning because students do not have to make up a day at the end of the school year,” Gipson said. “All in all, our teachers and staff have committed to making the best of every day we have with each other and our students. Though this year has brought many challenges, we know that we are stronger together and learning is our focus.”
Snowing in Searcy was expected to primarily wrap up early Thursday morning with up to 6 additional inches being added by the second snowstorm this week, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Justin Condry.
As of around 2 p.m. Wednesday, Searcy had gotten 2 more inches of snow from the snowstorm that began overnight. The snowstorm Sunday and Monday dropped 6 to 8 inches in the Searcy area. Condry said the majority of the snowfall from Wednesday’s storm was expected to cease by 3-4 a.m. Thursday, but some scattered light snow showers were possible after that time.
Condry said cities more to the south such as Star City, Pine Bluff and White Hall were receiving the heavier snow, with about 4 or 5 inches as of Wednesday afternoon. Searcy and Little Rock, he said, were expected to get heavier snow in the late afternoon and evening.
He said having the back-to-back snowstorms in Arkansas is unusual.
“We talked about this within the office. It’s not very common to see two snowstorms like this for Arkansas,” Condry said. “It is something like you would see in the northeast or in the northern part of the country. Often times we see these systems do come back to back but usually in the form of rain. We may have a storm system come through and then have two days between another system, and while one of those systems could have that cold air in place, often times we don’t see that big cold air mass sitting over us for this long.”
It has been about a week since temperatures were above freezing, Condry noted. “That is not common, so when you do have these two storm systems coming through with the cold air in place, you are kind of guaranteeing snow at that point.”
Although the system was expected to push out Thursday morning, Condry said he expected the Searcy area temperatures to remain below freezing.
“Friday will be sunny. We are seeing the lows for Thursday night and Friday night being in the teens, so any melting that could occur, we are still going to have snow around the area,” he said. “We are not going to get above freezing so the likelihood of melting a lot is not very likely. Any melting that does occur will start icing over as we start dropping those temperatures still below freezing.
“A bigger day for melting will be Saturday with patchy clouds around but the highs will get above freezing, most likely in the mid- to upper 30s. Saturday will be more of a melting day when we get a break with some warmer air even though the high will likely be in the upper 30s, so not technically a heatwave but for us recently, it will feel very nice.”
Condry said the warming trend will eventually move up into the 40s with continued melting.
“I have a feeling by the end of the weekend and into Monday a lot of that snow will start decreasing rapidly,” he said. “I think for Monday and Tuesday we will not have as much snow on the ground. Some places in the state where they are not in the direct sunlight, may still see some snow on the ground but other than that it will be more of a bigger melting off of the snow.
“After the first snowstorm the Arkansas Department of Transportation did a fantastic job of getting a lot of those main roads clear. I would imagine a similar thing that they are kind of already anticipating having to do similar clearing for this snow. Those back roads are going to be more hazardous and it might be hard to get their equipment back there.”
NorthStar EMS has put studded tires on its ambulances “to try to get us to places that are going to be harder to get to” this week during the snowstorms, according to Director of Operations Tonia Hale, who is also a Searcy City Council member.
“There has been a couple places that were kind of sketchy to get in and out of,” Hale said.
Hale said the biggest problem has been dealing with some of the side roads out in the county. “You have to stop because a car is coming out of a driveway or passing someone. When you stop, it is hard to get going again.”
The call volume for the ambulance service has been pretty high, she said.
“It’s a variety of calls. We have had several falls and then you have your medicals,” Hale said. “It’s the sick time of year when people have respiratory and pneumonia and bronchitis and things like that. Our call volume has been up; Tuesday, I believe we did 60 calls.”
When it comes to getting employees into work, Hale said some of them have shuttled in together and that helped.
“Harding University has helped us out,” she said. “We have put a couple of employees up over at the Heritage [the campus hotel]; some of them that live out of the county. Some of our employees live outside White County, so they stayed at the Heritage.”
Hale said those who are placing calls for an ambulance need to remember that the ambulances are having to travel “on this mess,” too.
“It may take us just a little bit longer to get there,” she said. “We can’t travel fast in these conditions.”
She said NorthStar has responded to “several accidents.” However, there have been no fatalities reported in the county this week.
Searcy Water and Sewer is “still producing water like normal, [but] it has taken a little extra effort to get operators to the water plant,” General Manager Dan Dawson said Wednesday.
He said although the utility has been affected by the snowstorms last weekend and Wednesday, it is not shutting down. “We are making it happen.”
Dawson said the utility is getting a lot of calls from people who have frozen water pipes and are wanting their water meters shut off, which he said they is being done. “It’s a little busy and hectic because of the weather, but we have the staff to do [it] and that’s our job, so that’s what we are doing.”
“Dripping faucets” is probably the No. 1 thing customers can do to help the water department, according to Dawson. Doing that, he said, “hopefully” will keep the pipes from bursting. “It’s amazing how much extra water the system is using right now because of people just dripping their faucets.”
Those who have plumbing that is in exterior walls may want to do something to keep that plumbing warm such as opening cabinets in the rest of the house so the warm air can circulate, Dawson said. “Personally, I have a bathtub that the plumbing is in the exterior wall and the plumbing in that bathtub is frozen. It happens even to me.”
Asked if both businesses and residential customers experience trouble with water issues during weather like this, Dawson said “it can be anyone who has plumbing that is exposed or semi-exposed in cold temperatures. It’s not so much the snow as it is the bitter cold temperatures. We are just not used to this single-digit temperature stuff.”
He said the utility doesn’t hear much from restaurant owners in this type of weather since they have probably used a commercial contractor to get their plumbing installed and they put in the “extra effort to make sure it [the plumbing] was protected.”