The polar vortex that has blasted extremely cold air into the central and southern part of the U.S., including Eureka Springs, is unprecedented both in how far below normal the temperatures have been and how long the weather has stayed in the deep freeze.
“This is super extreme,” local avid weather follower Arthur Bruno said. “We are forty degrees below normal and we have been below normal for multiple days. Usually, super extremes only last a day or two before they revert to just below average. I have never in my entire life been in a weather situation where it has been so this far below normal for this long. I’m stupefied by how extreme this is.”
Bruno said he never weather this extreme even in his 12 years living in Vermont.
“The other thing that is a mind bender is that we have one storm after the other,” Bruno said, discussing a second storm that was arriving Wednesday. “It is snowing almost all the way to the Gulf of Mexico over a broad area. El Paso got three inches of snow. The fact that a state of emergency has been declared in Texas and Oklahoma is no surprise. There are millions of people without power in Texas. That’s scary. They are just not prepared for it with roads and heating.”
Eureka Springs experienced the most snow in about six years, with four to six inches as of Feb. 16.
Bruno said the weather is supposed to start improving by later in the week, but it will take time for things to thaw out.
“Probably by 23rd or 24th, we will be able to poke our heads out to normal or maybe a little above, which would be in the fifties in the day,” Bruno said. “I just really want to stress to people it is not going to last forever. We will see the sun. We will warm up. Climatology is on our side.”
Emergency Medical Services have been busy transporting a number of people to the emergency room with broken bones. Police and EMS were helping people in stranded vehicles. Mayor Butch Berry was frustrated that some people were ignoring orange cones placed to prevent vehicles from attempting to drive up roads that were dangerous. He said they have had numerous cones stolen and even signs flipped on some of the streets.
“The police department will begin issuing citations, if we find them,” Berry said.
The city treated most main roads and some side roads but, as of Feb. 15, supplies had been depleted and their second truck for treating roads had broken down again and was back in the repair shop.
“We are trying our best to keep up,” Berry said. “We have two pallets of salt in Hindsville as soon as we can pick them up.”
Shelters are open
Berry said the city has been working with the police and Fire/EMS to shelter anyone in need. Overnight shelters for men were set up at the Eureka Springs Community Center, the First United Methodist Church was providing day and overnight housing for women and children, and New Day Fellowship was open as a day shelter. Temperatures the night of Feb. 15 got down to minus 9 degrees.
Rev. Blake Lasater said they had a few people who sheltered at the church during the day, but not overnight Monday. “I think it was a big obstacle even getting here,” Lasater said.
Community Center Activities Director Cat Luna, said that, as far as she was aware, there is no one who stayed at the community center Monday night, but that was subject to change if people needed evacuation from their homes.
Residents are asked to call the Eureka Springs Fire Department at 253-8666 if they are planning to head to any of these shelters or are in need of assistance.
Problems staying warm
Heating and air services in the area were getting a lot of calls from customers struggling to stay warm.
Bobby Deaton, owner of Island Airco, said most heat and air pumps for this area of the country are designed with the expectation of lows around 10 to 12 degrees. When you get below that amount, the system is just not big enough.
“What we are seeing with a whole lot of our calls is that there is nothing wrong with the heating and cooling equipment, but homes are getting behind because of the amount of time that outside temperatures have been below normal design conditions for this region,” Deaton said. “We highly recommend people have secondary heat sources in the home. Obviously, this is where wood or gas stoves and fireplaces come into play. Anything you can do to add heat to your home is awesome. Those with wood burning stoves and a good supply of wood are doing the best right now. People with propane heat have found providers have had trouble keeping up with demand. We have a few who have absolutely run out. That is extremely troubling when it is zero degrees. So far, our power providers have done well keeping power on considering how much strain there is on the grid.”
Accidents are up, batteries not cranking
Eureka Springs Fire Chief Nick Samac said some people who have fallen in the ice and snow have been brought to the hospital, and there have also been car accidents. They have also responded to some structural fires.
“People are being out when they should probably be staying home,” he said. “Unless it is a true emergency, stay home, stay warm, and be prepared. Even getting out walking, you risk falling and tie up two medics to help you. Taking undo risks is something that people should avoid. The last thing we need is to deplete resources.”
It is a tough environment for EMS, fire and police who respond to calls.
“This might be the coldest I recall,” said Samac, who is also emergency management coordinator for Carroll County. “We are limited with resources in Arkansas to deal with winters this cold. This bitter cold cuts you to the bone. Sunday power was out through Grassy Knob, Busch and up into Benton County. We are always concerned when the power is out.”
Samac advises against trying to heat a home with a gas stove; that is a fire hazard. If you do have natural gas or propane heat, he highly recommends a carbon monoxide fire detector.
The cold weather has also made it difficult to start vehicles.
“My personal truck wouldn’t start at the fire station,” Samac said. “Even if you have a good battery, in very cold weather, it won’t crank.”
John Gibbons, manager of the NAPA Auto Parts, agreed there might be nothing wrong with a battery that won’t crank when it is this cold. He advises people to wait until it warms up.
“This past weekend items like batteries, wiper blades and any ice melt I had were gone very quickly,” Gibbons said. “This is the first time we have seen weather like this in quite some time. Don’t risk breaking an arm or leg by getting out. It is definitely not worth it to try to drive and possibly end up off the road in a ditch that is going to cause even more problems not just for you, but the police and emergency responders.”