Severe Thunderstorms Pummel Arkansas, Thousands Face Power Outages

Jul 15, 2016

A tree fell on top of a car in North Little Rock Thursday.
Credit KATV, Channel 7 News

Tens of thousands of homes went without electricity after severe thunderstorms downed trees and power lines throughout Arkansas on Thursday night. High winds accompanied the round of thunderstorms, as a tornado warning was issued. The National Weather Service later confirmed that no tornadoes touched down in the state, however. No injuries or deaths have been reported.

As of Friday afternoon, Entergy Arkansas reported that more than 66,000 of its customers were still without power, including about 23,000 in Pulaski County and 10,000 in Garland County. The total number of outages was down from a peak of approximately 137,000 reported by the utility late Thursday. Jefferson, Montgomery, Saline and Union counties each had more than 5,000 customers without power on Friday morning.

Entergy Arkansas spokeswoman Sally Graham said the majority of customers still without electricity should have their power restored by Sunday. But she said customers in the “hardest hit” areas may have to wait until Tuesday before their power is restored

Graham said the areas labeled as “hardest hit” include Little Rock, Hot Springs, Russellville, Glenwood, Gurdon, Camden, Magnolia, El Dorado and Malvern.

“All of our Entergy Arkansas lineman, scouts, tree trimmers—they are all engaged. All of our vacations and alternate Fridays have been cancelled. We’ve already gotten some of our additional resources onsite. They are going to all of the affected areas,” Graham said.

Graham said there was “extensive damage” throughout the utility’s territory, with “utility poles down, lots of spans of wire down and transformers—various equipment has been damaged.” 

She says the company has enlisted about 1,200 people to help repair damage and restore power from crews in surrounding areas, like Texas and Louisiana. They are joining about 800 Entergy Arkansas linemen, scouts, tree trimmers and contractors.

Graham said homeowners who’ve sustained damage to their service meters will have to call an electrician before Entergy can make the repair.

On Friday the city of Little Rock announced it would open two cooling centers on Saturday and Sunday to accommodate residents who may face the loss of electricity in their homes this weekend. The cooling centers will be located at the Dunbar Community Center and the Southwest Community Center.

Matt Burk with the city’s emergency management office said that by the end of the day Thursday, his office had received 169 reports of downed trees, downed power lines, downed power poles or power outage notices from city residents. He said the department will likely issue instructions for residents within the next two days on how to best dispose of debris from the storm.

Little Rock residents can call 311 or use the 311 reporting app to tell the city about any felled trees, blocked roadways or downed power lines.

“Street Operations crews were working overnight and all of Friday to address many of the areas that had downed trees and limbs blocking roadways. In some places, power lines tangled up in trees prevented streets from being cleared,” wrote city spokeswoman Jennifer Godwin in a statement.

Godwin said staff at the Little Rock Zoo “spent the morning clearing the park of fallen trees and limbs. All Zoo animals are safe.”

A tornado warning issued by the National Weather Service for Pulaski and Saline County on Thursday expired at 6pm, but there were no official accounts of twisters hitting central Arkansas.

“We received several pictures and reports of funnel clouds but to our knowledge the circulation didn’t touch the ground. But certainly there was enough evidence to issue a [tornado] warning. It was very close,” said Dennis Kavanaugh, a warning coordination meteorologist with National Weather Service in Little Rock.

Kavanaugh said most damage throughout the state was caused by straight-line winds.  He said the storm grew severe in the early evening because the conditions right for it.

“Thunderstorms typically occur or produce most their severe weather during the peak heating hours of the day because that’s just when the air and the low-level atmosphere is at its hottest. Hot and humid air is actually very light and so it can move upwards very quickly. When you have that light and very humid air and you lift it—that’s basically the fuel for thunderstorms,” he said.