Dangerously low temperatures, single-degree and subzero wind chills, and freezing precipitation are in the forecast for nearly the entire state beginning this weekend and lasting into late next week, meteorologists with the National Weather Service in North Little Rock said Friday.
"It seems like people focus on snow. Yes, there is going to be snow," meteorologist Dylan Cooper said. "Probably more snow than we have seen in quite some time, but the cold is going to come with snow, and it is going to be brutal."
Temperatures are predicted to begin falling Sunday with morning lows in the teens and 20s. By Tuesday, temperatures are expected to be as low as minus-4 degrees in Fayetteville, 3 degrees in Little Rock, 4 degrees in Jonesboro, and 7 degrees in Texarkana and Monticello.
The coldest wind chills are expected Monday morning, at minus-13 degrees in Fayetteville, minus-2 degrees in Jonesboro, 1 degree in Little Rock, 8 degrees in Texarkana and 6 degrees in Monticello.
Such temperatures are potentially lethal, Cooper warned, noting that plants will die and pets and humans are at extreme risk.
The first wintry precipitation is expected to start early Sunday in southern Arkansas, Cooper said. Snow, sleet, and a mix of sleet and snow will then spread across the state.
Most of western and northern Arkansas are predicted to see as much as 5.5 inches of snow overnight Sunday. Central, southwestern and parts of northeastern Arkansas are expected to see as much as 4.5 inches of sleet and snow, while the southeastern corner of the state is expected to see up to 2.5 inches of sleet.
"Nobody is going to be out of the woods on this," Cooper said. "Everybody is going to be dealing with some sort of precipitation from the first system."
A second snow system is predicted to arrive Tuesday night and move through the state Wednesday and Thursday. Precipitation estimates for that system remained uncertain Friday, but Cooper said it will likely be another significant snow event.
"It would be a pretty safe bet that the second system could bring as much if not more than the first one," he said. "It is going to be a very snowy week."
Arkansas Department of Transportation spokesman Dave Parker said Friday that the department was wrapping up cleanup from the previous winter storm that moved through the state this week and was pretreating roadways with salt brine and beet juice mixtures in preparation for the coming system.
He said most of the state's main roadways were clear Friday, but the department was still working on some secondary roads and interstate ramps.
Pretreatment was already being applied in some areas, Parker said, while other roads were clear because of previous treatments. The department also will take the next couple of days to repair any equipment that was damaged during the previous ice storm, he said.
Crews have been working around the clock for days, Parker said, and the hope is that today will give employees time to rest before the second winter wave sets in.
Parker said typically snow is a little more manageable than ice.
"We don't get a lot of snow here, but it is something we are more familiar with," he said.
About 400 C&L Electric members in Star City remained without power Friday morning after ice that fell Wednesday and Thursday, according to Rob Roedel, spokesman for the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas. He said the majority of the outages were in Desha and Cleveland counties.
"The lines are very spread out because of the rural nature of the area," Roedel said. "It is very rugged terrain, and there are few members on lines, which cause the restoration to be longer in other areas."
Co-ops and other utility companies were bracing again Friday for another round of winter precipitation, but Roedel said snow typically is less disruptive than ice.
Still, wet snow can build up on tree branches and cause limbs to break, which came damage power lines, Roedel said. Extreme cold also can expose faults in the power system.
"If there is a crack on an insulator and water gets in that, extreme cold weather can exacerbate the issue," he said.
By Thursday night, Entergy Arkansas had restored power to all of its 5,000 customers who lost it earlier, which were mostly in the eastern portion of the state, company spokesman David Lewis said Friday.
"Now we are standing by watching weather forecasts, doing some prearrangements such as identifying resources, including people and materials," Lewis said. "We are pretty much in a constant state of readiness."
He asked that customers unplug major appliances if they lose power. That helps lessen the burden on circuit breakers as they are turned back on and helps eliminate a possible second outage. Appliances can be plugged in again a few minutes after power is restored.
Roedel and Lewis said customers should be aware of how much power is used during a winter storm.
"All that energy you use right now is going to be reflected on your bill in the next 30 days," Roedel said.
"I would urge people to use caution when possible, avoid space heaters and avoid using the emergency heat setting if on electric heat," he said.
Lewis also suggested that customers turn thermostats to 68 degrees and wear a few extra layers of clothing. Weather stripping and water heater blankets also can reduce energy costs during cold weather, he said.
Gala Tallent, co-owner of Street Ministry Luke 9:58, has been distributing sleeping bags and travel pillows to the homeless population in and around Little Rock for the past week. Her team also has helped organize transportation efforts by Depaul USA Jericho Way and the Little Rock Police Department.
Some in the homeless population have decided to stay on the street, Tallent said. She said some have said they are risking the low temperatures because of a fear of catching covid-19 in a shelter.
Some changed their minds as temperatures dropped overnight Thursday, resulting in calls to Tallent as early as 2 a.m. Friday.
"It was so cold last night," Tallent said. "I thought I was going to die just being out. I just don't know how they do it."
The transportation efforts to get the homeless into shelters is a new effort started by Mandy Davis, director of Jericho Way.
"I quickly realized Friday of last week that transportation is such a problem, especially because of covid," Tallent said. "I called the chief and was able to get his team organized fast enough so that I could ride around with officers to get people in."
Davis said often police officers already have relationships with some homeless individuals.
"We found people who weren't in tents in the River Market District," Davis said. "Without the officers' assistance, and them knowing the people, I wouldn't have known they were there."
On Friday afternoon Davis was running supplies, such as sleeping bags, water, gloves and hats, to a Little Rock police precinct. The hope is that officers can distribute the supplies while on patrol if they come across a homeless person in need.
Ten to 12 homeless people die on the streets of Little Rock each year, Davis said referring to data her organization collects from the Pulaski County coroner's office. She said eight people have died so far this year.
Davis said she never gets used to seeing people freezing on streets, often with chapped hands, lips and cloudy eyes.
"The visible shaking," Davis said. "That's scary."
Surrounding states also were preparing Friday for dangerous winter weather.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt declared a state of emergency for all 77 of the state's counties. The declaration suspends requirements for oversized vehicles used for emergency relief and utility restoration. It also activates the state's Emergency Operations Plan and allows state agencies to make storm-related emergency acquisitions without regard to bidding requirements.
The next round of weather is expected to begin pushing into Oklahoma late tonight, bringing heavy snowfall and high winds that will reduce visibility and make travel difficult. The National Weather Service predicts bitterly low temperatures with wind chills of between minus-25 to minus-35 degrees Monday and Tuesday.
Freezing rain and snow also were expected over many parts of Texas through early next week, prompting officials in Houston to advise residents Friday to prepare for power outages and hazardous roads that would be similar to those experienced in the wake of a Category 5 hurricane.
Houston, which earlier this week had high temperatures in the 70s, is forecast to have its lowest temperatures in 30 years. Temperatures late Monday night into early Tuesday morning are expected to dip to 15 degrees.
"It's a serious event, and we want to treat it the same way we would if a hurricane were to [be] forecast and land here," said County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the top elected official in Harris County where Houston is located.
Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration Friday for all of the state's 254 counties ahead of the storm and said state resources, including equipment and personnel, will be deployed.
In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, heavy snowfall is forecast for late Sunday into Monday.
In the Texas Panhandle, the wind chill factor from Sunday through Tuesday could dip to minus-25 to minus-30 degrees in some locations, along with up to 12 inches of snow.
Even in deep south Texas, which typically has mild winters, temperatures early Tuesday morning are expected to be in the 20s.
"It's going to be a mess," said Lance Wood, a science operations officer with the National Weather Service in the Houston area.
Information for this article was contributed by The Associated Press.