On March 2, a winter storm blew into our area; the likes of which some people said they’ve never seen. For starters, the calendar has inched ever-closer to spring; a time we reserve for outdoor sports and recreation, short-sleeve shirts, and farming operations.
This year proved much differently.
Drifts of ice, sleet, and snow formed several feet high in some places as temperatures plummeted into the teens. Roads, driveways, and sidewalks—completely clear just hours before—saw ice form sheets several inches thick over their asphalt and pavement. More nerve-racking, power lines, poles, and transformers twinkled as lights bounced off the icy glaze.
By the morning of March 3, more than 35,000 Arkansans had no electricity, with Craighead, Crittenden, Mississippi, Phillips, Saint Francis, and Woodruff counties reporting the most outages.
Fortunately, unlike 2009’s severe storm which left entire communities without power for weeks, our utility companies showed readiness to handle 2014’s winter blast.
By March 4, most outages had power restored, giving much needed heating and electricity back to First District homes and businesses; but that effort did not come without tireless and treacherous hours from utility workers.
For example, I tried unsuccessfully to catch several flights to Washington D.C. during the week. The backed-up traffic and lane closures along icy Interstate 55 prevented me from traveling to Memphis International Airport, where I typically board flights to D.C. Despite my frustrations, I enjoyed spending extra time with my family; thankfully, in a house fully powered.
So, while the rest of the world ceased normal operations, including routine travel, our utility companies ramped into hyper-speed.
These men and women labored around the clock—some working 18-hour shifts—and braved poor road conditions to maintain and restore electricity to all their customers.
On the morning of March 6, I met with utility crews from Craighead Electric Cooperative of Arkansas, expressing my gratitude for their hard work despite harsh conditions. While speaking to the linemen, I noticed a damaged uniform, framed and hanging on the wall. One of the uniform’s shoulders had charred marks as if someone had torched it. As I walked out, I asked about its significance.
The uniform had belonged to one of the younger linemen sitting in the room. About a year ago, this particular worker attempted to repair a downed power line. Unaware the line still had power, he reached for it, only to have a power arc surge through the line.
Had he not have worn a flame-resistant uniform, his body would’ve encountered serious burns. Instead, he returned to work shortly thereafter, and his displayed uniform offers testimony to the dangers linemen face.
And yet, during our winter storm, these men and women consistently exposed themselves to potential dangers to ensure we still have the conveniences of electricity.
For their efforts, I thank them and ask that when our cooling bill seems steep in the coming summer months, we remember their sacrifices this winter.