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State bracing for winter storm; high school playoff games canceled

LITTLE ROCK — All high school football playoff games, including three state championship games at War Memorial Stadium, have been postponed a week because of a winter storm that is bearing down on Arkansas, the executive director of the Arkansas Activities Association said Wednesday.

Also Wednesday, Entergy Arkansas officials said the utility will bring in about 8,000 extra workers to help with power outages from the storm, expected to hit Northwest Arkansas on Thursday and move across the state Friday and Saturday.

A quarter-inch or more of ice is predicted in some places and the National Weather Service on Wednesday issued a winter weather warning for much of Northwest and northern Arkansas.

“We may may see up to a quarter inch ice, maybe more, in some isolated areas, as well as sleet, that’s going to affect power lines and trees and those kind of things,” said Marty Trexler with the National Weather Service office in North Little Rock.

During a news conference Wednesday, Hugh McDonald, president and CEO of Entergy Arkansas, said independent contractors across the region will be used to restore electrical lines, clear debris, and provide damage assessments, among other things.

Brady Aldy, transmission and distribution operations director for Entergy Arkansas, said that a with “a major storm that affects a large area of our territory, power restoration for all customers could take between five and seven days to complete, with the majority of customers being back in service much sooner than that.”

McDonald also said Entergy learned a great deal from the 2012 Christmas night winter storm that left nearly 200,000 customers without power.

“What’s different here is I think we’ve got a more confident prediction forecast of the weather event,” he said, adding that the utility also has already begun purchasing utility poles and electrical lines based on damage predicted by models of the storm.

“It’s given us a couple extra days to mobilize,” he said, adding that people across the state should begin preparing their emergency preparedness kits. Those kids should include flashlights, a battery-powered radio with fresh batteries, spare batteries, canned food and a can opener, a supply of fresh water for several days and a first-aid kit, he said.

Lance Taylor, executive director of the AAA, said the decision to postpone all high school football games for Friday and Saturday “was based on a safety issue.”

“We wanted to make sure everyone could travel to Little Rock or the other semifinal locations without hazardous driving conditions,” Taylor said. “We talked with several of our member schools involved in the playoffs, and we checked with the (War Memorial) stadium. This appears to be the best route to take by extending the season one week.”

“Playing in a state championship game can be a lifetime dream. We want this to be something the athletes, coaches, parents and fans will remember for the rest of their lives,” Taylor said.

Before midnight Thursday, sleet and snow should be falling in the northwest corner of the state. Freezing rain and sleet is also expected in the north central part of the state, and probably south into the Ouachita Mountains.

The snow and sleet is predicted to continue Friday along a path from the Ouachita Mountains to northeast Arkansas. Freezing rain and sleet in the central part of the state could total a quarter to three-fourths of an inch.

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