Ice Storm, January 26 – 28, 2009
Very cold air at the surface with abundant moisture from the Gulf of Mexico resulted in one to two inches of ice (and locally more) on trees and power lines across the northern two rows of counties. Over a third of a million customers lost power and over 30,000 power poles were either snapped or downed. As many as 18 people died across the state. Most were due to hypothermia, post-event hazards (i.e. downed trees/power lines) or traffic related.
When we see the weather disasters on the news, there is seldom any mention of how public recreation areas have been impacted.
Recently we took a drive up Scenic Highway 7 in Pope County, Arkansas, to view the damage from last month’s ice storm.
We didn’t see much damage until we were about 12 miles north of Dover. Then we started seeing snapped branches and other debris in the ditches along side the road. Initially, most of it seemed to be from the tops of the trees.
As we drove further north, the damage got significantly worse. Entire trees had toppled and it was obvious that in places trees had blocked the highway for a time. In one long stretch, every pole on the transmission line that paralleled the highway had been replaced. The heavy weight of the ice on the power lines had been too much for the original poles.
I had planned to stop at Fairview Campground to see what kind of damage it had sustained. We didn’t bother to go in. As you can see from the following photo, the short access road into the campground was still blocked by fallen timber.
Our next stop was Alum Cove Recreation Area, on Highway 16 near the small community of Deer. We were able to drive into the parking lot, probably because the access road had been used by power company crews repairing the power line that ran next to the road.
There is no easy access to the picnic area or to the trail to the natural bridge. As well, there are hazards from weakened trees and broken limbs that have not yet fallen.
If you have travel plan in or through northern Arkansas in the next few months, check with local officials for current conditions.
Additional related information:
Excerpts from Forest Service Press Release, January 30, 2009
More than half of the 1.2 million acre Ozark National Forest in Arkansas is closed due to widespread damage left in the wake of the severe ice storm that swept through the state earlier this week. Downed power and communication lines coupled with extensive damage to trees brought all activity in the forest north of I-40 to a near standstill…
Forest officials say that it could be weeks before an accurate estimate of the damage to facilities and natural resources could be assessed. Until the extent of damage is known and all travel routes and recreation areas are cleared, the forest north of Interstate 40 will remain closed. “We know this an inconvenience, but our first concern is the safety of the public and our employees,” said Knudsen.
According to Incident Commander Mark Morales some of the areas mirror damage left in the wake of a tornado. “We’re looking at having to clear up to ¾ of the roads in some places. Right now our main concern is getting crews into all areas of the forest as quickly as possible to make sure that we don’t have people out there that need our help.”
Excerpts from Forest Service Press Release, February 9, 2009
Thousands of acres of the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests bear the scars of a severe winter ice storm that hovered over Oklahoma and Arkansas the last week in January.
Forest employees quickly responded to public needs in the aftermath of the storm by clearing forest roads critical to emergency relief efforts. Providing access for communication companies to restore emergency 911 services in many areas, as well as radio and cellular communication has been an ongoing task since the ice storm pushed trees to the breaking point last week.
Currently, several developed recreation areas and trails within the Forest are closed until further notice. Closed signs have been posted in many areas. While not all forest roads are posted as closed, many are impassable due to downed limbs and trees. The public is urged to use extreme caution when entering any part of the forest due to the possibility of falling limbs or trees, downed power lines, and icy roads.
National Park Service, Buffalo National River, February 17, 2009
Three weeks after the storm made its mark on northern Arkansas, park roads, campgrounds, cabin areas and other visitor areas are clear of debris; however, safety hazards may persist through the summer. Visitors must stay vigilant of falling branches and limbs when navigating through trails and other heavily-wooded areas.