BY MELANIE BUCK –
Winter weather had the county on hold last week after freezing temperatures and snowfall kept roads icy for the weekend. Snow began falling on Friday morning, January 6 before taking a break mid-morning and then bringing in more than an inch on Friday afternoon.
All area schools made the decision to take a snow day early Friday morning as roads were already proving treacherous. Polk County Sheriff Scott Sawyer said his department began working accidents at 4:30 a.m. on Friday and had ten before the morning was up.
Many area businesses also made the decision to close early on Friday so their employees could make it safely home. The highway department and county road department had all hands on deck pre-treating highways Thursday ahead of the well-forecasted winter weather.
Once the snow began to fall again on Friday afternoon, two dozen more accidents were reported. One area, just south of the Vandervoort Junction, had several cars in the ditch at once, including a tour bus and several 18-wheelers, around 2 p.m. that day. It began with two 18-wheelers and a one-ton truck and escalated from there.
Sheriff Sawyer said a four-mile stretch of Highway 71, from Vandervoort Junction to Wickes, was blocked from around 2 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. “We would get it to where we could open up one lane and then another wreck would happen,” said Sawyer. At one point, a tour bus loaded with passengers was blocking the highway and it took two wreckers to get the bus going again. “The passengers stayed on the bus until the wreckers got there and then we were rotating them in and out of patrol cars to keep them warm,” Sawyer said. “The deputies did a great job and we really appreciate the hard work that the highway department did with pre-treating the roads.”
Sawyer also said that there were no serious injuries and most vehicles sustained only minor damage.
In all, parts of the county, mostly in the south, received near two inches of snow while Mena gathered around an inch. Queen Wilhelmina State Park, that sits atop the 2,680 ft. Rich Mountain, Arkansas’ second highest peak, reported receiving around four inches of snow. Park Interpreter Melissa Phillips said a lot of wind blew most of the snow off of the roadways with gusts up to 24 miles an hour on Friday. She reported that road conditions going up the mountain are fine now and there is no snow left as temperatures have finally risen above freezing. “Nothing stuck to the trees. It was a very cold dry snow. It got down to a -7 wind chill with a temperature of 10 degrees on Friday night,” Phillips said.
On Monday night, area weather began another rapid change, bringing daytime temperatures near 70 for the next several days and nighttime temps in the upper 40’s.