Latest storm surprises Ark. with 20-inch snowfall

By Kelly P. Kissel

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 9 2011 12:30 p.m. MST

A salt truck approaches a snow-covered intersection where cars are abandoned in Little Rock, Ark., Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011.

Danny Johnston, Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A winter storm dropped nearly two feet of snow on parts of Arkansas on Wednesday after forecasters predicted that only a half-foot or so would fall. One person was killed when a tractor-trailer rig crashed, and searchers found two teenage boys safe after they drove off a snow-slickened road.

Twenty inches of snow had fallen by midmorning at Gentry and 18 inches were on the ground at Deer, Elm Springs and Siloam Springs. A day earlier, the National Weather Service said most of the state would see 4-6 inches of snow, with isolated higher amounts.

State police said one person died along Interstate 40 near Galloway, just east of Little Rock, when a tractor-trailer rig crashed. Further details weren't immediately available. Searchers in Madison County followed a ping from a cell phone to find a pair of teenage boys who were stranded after crashing their pickup truck.

Highway crews and police officers implored residents to stay inside as snow piled up. Before the storm, school districts called off classes for the day and government agencies canceled court hearings and many services. Gov. Mike Beebe said only essential state personnel had to report to work, and after the snow started falling a number of churches canceled their Wednesday night services.

Rob Cork, an Englishman who with his wife Dawn operates a tea room in Siloam Springs in Arkansas' far northwestern corner, peered out his window Wednesday and couldn't find a soul trudging about in knee-high piles of snow.

"It kills business, but looks fantastic," said Cork, who in previous years discovered that most Arkansans just stay inside when the weather turns this nasty.

"This year, when it snowed, we just shut the doors," he said.

A few blocks away, a diner called it quits due to the weather too, leaving locals to look elsewhere for a cup of coffee or a bowl of baked oatmeal.

"We can't make it in today since the snow is so deep!" the CafÉ on Broadway posted on its website. "If roads get cleared, we might come in this afternoon. Be safe! No cars should be driving in this. You WILL get stuck!"

The 20 inches of snow at Gentry practically guarantees local school children won't be back in their classrooms until Monday — a full two weeks after their last school day. A blizzard Feb. 1 hit the area hard, and administrators wanted to play it safe as about 1,000 of their 1,400 students must ride school buses on twisty, hilly roads.

"A lot of them remind you a little of a roller coaster when you're driving them," Superintendent Randy Barrett said.

A handful of other rural northwest Arkansas school districts have not resumed classes since the Feb. 1 storm. Cold temperatures and cloudy days kept much of the ice from melting, leaving some roads too hazardous for school buses.

Bands of snow dropping out of Kansas and over from Oklahoma tracked over the region again and again, said David Jankowski of the weather service office in Tulsa, Okla., which predicts the weather for northwestern Arkansas.

"It's kind of hard to forecast the exact setup of where those heavier bands will be," he said.

Other parts of Arkansas were still expecting more than half a foot later Wednesday, in the fifth episode of severe winter weather in the past month. In some years, Arkansas goes an entire season without a major snow or ice storm.

The Senate adjourned until Monday to give senators time to return home, though some lawmakers said they planned to stay in town and ride out the weather. The House, however, planned to return to the Capitol on Thursday morning.

"I would like to announce that the House and Senate snowball fight scheduled for the south lawn has been canceled because the Senate left," Rep. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, announced on the House floor.

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