PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) - Region 8 residents were glued to their television sets Thursday night and Friday morning to find out what our first winter weather event would bring.
Members of the Arkansas Department of Transportation were watching, as well.
Brad Smithee, ArDOT District 10 engineer, said they used several models and tuned in to Region 8's Storm Team Weather to see what was coming.
Smithee said this year's event did something a little different.
"The falling event and cold temperatures started around midnight to 1:30 across our district," Smithee said. "Through the night we got a lot of sleet in some places and not so much in others. It was a strange event in that it didn't pattern across like the way we often see. We got areas where it circled and got more volume than others and areas that didn't get so much. Our work toward the storm had to follow whatever happened. Through the night it was very, very cold. So, as the materials accumulated they were cold and froze quickly and became an icy substance and the cold temperatures haven't very well let our salts and chemicals work very well just yet."
Smithee said different areas of Region 8 showed signs of improvement at different speeds.
"We had hoped and followed the forecast for a little sunshine today," Smithee said. "We hoped the temperatures would rise a little more than they have. We are seeing improved conditions across the area. For the most part, to the west side of the district is gaining ground very rapidly. The east side over at Interstate I-555 in Poinsett and Mississippi Counties, we're still struggling quite a bit because it's still cloudy and about 22 or 23 degrees over there. So, some areas we're improving rapidly and other areas we're still waiting on a little temperature to help us with the salts and things that will become active and become functional to make better improvements."
Smithee said they always prepare for winter weather events by assigning first and second crew shifts.
"We have to break into 12-hour shifts," Smithee said. "Because we never know how long these events are going to happen. So, we half our workforce immediately. We've got about 225 maintenance employees that work with this. Of course, we have to staff our offices so they're available for phones. We really only have maybe six or eight folks in each county at any given time in trucks actively working. And we have to cover over 1700 miles. So, obviously, we can't get every road every 25 minutes all day and all-night long."
Smithee said their plan of attack aims at the most traveled roads first.
"We start with our primary highways," Smithee said. "Our busiest trouble routes. We actually categorize them as A, B, and C. A being the highest priorities which are things like Interstate 55, 555, 49 and 63 in our area. And then we go into our secondary roads once we get them in an acceptable level of service. And that's usually wheel pass, not clean roads but wheel pass exposed. When it's so cold, we haven't even accomplished that on our primary roads at this hour today. So, as hard as we can work we don't always get to those secondary and third level roads very rapidly. And that's unfortunate. But with our level of frequency and the volume of storms we have, it's very hard in our state to dedicate the cash and the resources, both equipment and man power and the funding toward those things. And so, we've really changed what we do in recent years. We do a lot more than we did ten or twenty years ago. Some of it has worked really well for us, some not so much. Especially when it's so cold."
Smithee said you can't plow off a sheet of ice.
He said that's where the sun and their chemical product comes into play.
"We're trying to push off as much of the loose pieces that we can," Smithee said. "And people tell me that my plows are out and they're throwing sparks. And they really are, and that's tough on those blades. They wear out really quickly. Some of our armored sets of blades cost in an excess of $3,000 for one plow. Those last a long time. They're a lot harder and durable, but they're very expensive. If we don't get it off in the middle of the day when the sun is shining is the best time when it's so cold to get anything off. And if we don't get it off at all, you don't get it off before nightfall. And if it's still there tonight it just keeps the roads in worse shape. So, we have sacrificial parts out there. We hate that we're doing what we do sometimes. But to make any progress you have to do it that way."
Smithee said their progress on cleaning off the roads is determined by how low the temperature is.
"Two or three degrees makes a monstrous difference," Smithee said. "Because the salts and things that are already on the road waiting to activate, they will work. But below 25 degrees, most of the products won't work unless you get into your lower extreme conditions and you start using magnesium and chlorides and things that get you on down near twenty. And with an event like this, that's not very practical."
Smithee said once they saw the temperature increase, things would begin to clear off quickly.
"We certainly hope the temperature goes up," Smithee said. "And our equipment becomes more functional through the day and cleans things off. I hope we have dry roads by tonight. But at this hour it sure looks like that's not going to happen very well. And we'll probably still have things we're dealing with tonight and into tomorrow. If the sun will come up and pick up five degrees, it'll probably be better very rapidly."
Smithee advised motorists to drive carefully throughout the day on Friday and into the evening.
Due to the low temperatures, he said there would probably be slick spots on certain roadways.
"The biggest caution I can offer folks today is be patient," Smithee said. "There are areas that are dry and clean. And you'll top a hill or go around a curve and the wind has changed, there may be cover there and you've got a very icy spot still. And that looks like it's going to continue through the day."
Smithee said he and AR DOT road workers appreciate the public's help in both their patience and notifications about what they see on the roads when their out.
"We do appreciate folks' patience," Smithee said. "We appreciate their comments to help us do a better every day."
For more information about AR DOT District 10, click here.