January 26-28, 2009 Northwest Arkansas Ice Storm Pictures Page 1 of 2

I didn't think I'd end up chasing this ice storm, but after watching the radar precip estimates exceed 4 inches in a wide area, falling into sub-freezing air, I figured it could be worth the trip. I set my alarm for 2:30 a.m. in hopes of being through KC by 6. I could not fall asleep for the life of me though. Midnight comes and I'm still not asleep, so I flip it to 4:30. I get about 3 hours of sleep and leave here by 5:30.

Rounding the corner in southwest KC around 8:30 I hit a lovely bottleneck. It must suck to deal with that every day. I continue on south of KC on highway 69 until the below happens.

Let me start by saying I drive in bad driving conditions really often. When it is snowing, raining, whatever, I'm really safe about things and slow down. Well not always in rain when I know I have to keep going quickly if I ever want out of it(like going east with a storm going east). But even if it is raining and near freezing, I'll be paranoid and keep testing the brakes while going slower.

The above here happens north of Ft. Scott KS I don't know, 15-20 miles or something. The storm ended here early evening or so the night before. It's around 9:30 or something, sunny but still cold. The road was dry the entire way to this point. Not long before here the left lane began to have snow or sleet on it, but the right was fine...dry. I knew sooner or later I'd run into ice. I kept looking at the trees and wasn't seeing any. Even if I had, I probably would have kept driving 75 mph if I thought the road was still dry.

I'm going along and come up on a lady in a van doing 70 mph...the speed limit. I go around her because I wanted to do 75 and get down here. I doubt it was a mile later I lost it. I'm not the only one who couldn't see my dry road had now turned to ice, as she wouldn't still be going 70 if she knew. It looked like it just had a coating of salt on it, this white bland look. You could still see the grooves in the pavement clear as day. Ever seen brick, or rock with a very thin coating of ice that just does not look like it is slick at all, or anything but brick or rock? That is exactly what this road was, starting somewhere near here.

So I'm driving straight, maintaining 75 mph, when all the sudden the rear end fishtails to the left. The feeling one feels right then and right after...sucks. There is no correcting a 75 mph fishtail on a sheet of ice. So the back comes around to the left and I turn the wheel forward with it. It just goes sideways like that for a bit then enters the grass. That point was extremely scary because at that sideways angle that fast, in a SUV, I was certain I was about to not just roll, but probably roll in "fashion" with airborne spins involved. Instead it slid. A couple things saved it from rolling. The sleet covered grass for one. No holes or bumps of any size there. I think also the fact I had the front wheels turned with it helped, as they wouldn't be pushing sideways like the back ones.

The initial fear/feeling went from oh no I've lost it, to I'm really in this situation and I can't magically vanish from it like a bad dream(this feeling was strong), to I don't think I'm going to die but I think I'm going to start flipping and either be bashed with crap in the car, or the roof of the car(glass too). It then went right into acceptance. It's crazy how fast it went through those, yet nothing ever felt anything like "slo-mo". Those all went through my head before the first initial slide left was changing to a slide backwards. If you look at the picture way back towards the highway you can see the first change of tracks. It all went through my head by there. Bing bang boom your mind goes through several things. I slid on the highway for a ways at that left angle, and wasn't losing much of any speed there. Then where it switches back there, the friction on those back tires sliding sideways finally pushes it back around. It went all the way around until I was sliding straight backwards. Then as I'm sliding backwards the front started to pivot back right and I think the friction then pushed it back the other way, spinning me left to the spot I finally came to the stop, in the taller grass.

I've never lost control or wrecked at anything near that fast. I hydroplaned one night, but I was already driving slow because I knew water was running over the road in spots, coming down from the hills. I was doing 45 that time and wound up stopped sideways on the highway at 4 a.m. That was more like a sploosh, spin to the side and stop. It was never even close to scary. This deal at 75 though, yeah I never want to do it again. I mean think of going interstate speed, being rather certain what you are still on is dry pavement, then the back end go sideways like its on butter. Worse than butter, ice. That instant SUCKED! LOL. I wish I could plant it in others heads so they know, if they've never done it. As you enter the grass still going just as fast, it's like you're right on the tipping point of some for real violence, as you face forward through your side window watching the grass go by. I could feel it leaning and well, just really wanted out of the situation. If it rolled back there before it flipped around backwards, well, I'm doubting my resting point would have been where it was. I'm guessing I'd have rolled that whole distance and some. I also recall having "time" to wonder what kind of G forces there would be with a fast roll. I can't stand that feeling on roller coasters. I'm sure that alone would highly suck in a fast roll.

It's funny, I've done things where I got spooked and had the whole heart locked into the throat thing. Not with this. It's sort of strange and interesting to think about that, for me anyway. It's probably because you get that when something almost happens and this was something actually happening. The acceptance feeling is really interesting too. Like the fear quickly gets to a point you just shut it off and accept whatever is about to happen. I don't know, I clearly remember going through those steps really fast in the early points of that slide.

A lot of winter ditch deals are when people know it is slick, like when it's snowing! They are then of course most often a lot slower, yet still too fast. That slide above though no, that was full bore. I am betting the lady in the van behind me had the heart in the throat thing watching that unfold. I would have if I was her and she was me. I bet part of her was glad after that, since I was pointing out how stupidly slick it now was. She could not have had a clue either, still going 70 like she was. She did stop on the shoulder to see if I needed anything, but I just waved her on since I had my cell phone.

When I came to a stop, the car was no longer running and steam was coming out the front right side. Normally when I think I'm stuck somewhere I really really don't like it. Right now though, all I could feel was a massive urge to get out and hug this Blazer. I was rather "giddy" as I sat there at first. I kept telling the car how I loved it for not flipping, and really did wish I could literally hug all of it.

So anyway, I try to start the car and no go. I wait a bit longer, still content as hell just being fine. I then try it again and voila it started! I then figure, I may as well at least try to drive it and see if I bent anything or screwed it up. Thing drove right on out of there and is apparently fine. There is still grass stuck in the wheel though. The tires bent back far enough to let it get jammed down in there between the rubber and the rim.

As I drive down the highway, at 40 now, I quickly see a pickup truck in the median that did roll. Its top was all smashed down. Right after that I see another car off to the side and an ambulance there. Part of me is a little surprised the road wasn't treated yet, this long after the storm ended...especially since it is a main 4 lane highway. Or maybe it had been with some salt earlier, I don't know.

Every vehicle coming north towards me on the other side was crawling along, even every single semi. I considered turning around and going home after that, figuring hell I was only now just into the bad roads. But, I kept on...probably really stupidly. I will say that road sucked when it converted back to 2 lanes and oncoming vehicles were now right there next to you. They'd get better and traffic would be going faster. I kept fearing more areas like that icy one would appear and one of these cars would nail me. I jumped over to the road north out of Joplin and it was dry, but hell if I could convince myself to drive like everyone else was on it.

My trip plan was to get into nw AR and drive around and at some point get into ne AR. After that though, I said screw ne AR, I will just go slow and get what I can in nw AR.

The roads went to hell fast as I neared the AR border, but I was half glad. I'd be going slower and not have to be paranoid the road I thought was dry wasn't. Soon the left lane was un-driveable. It was packed with sleet around those cities in nw AR. Not sure what they got but looked like must have been 4 inches of sleet. Driving in that left lane would simply shake the car apart. So, did 30 mph forever with everyone else, not a soul willing to try and go around anyone on that crap.

As expected ice accumulations picked up rapidly into nw AR.

I'm now in Springdale AR, where I'd spend the rest of the trip.

There is a tree in there somewhere. There was 1.5 to 2.0 inches on things here...plus all the sleet they got. That is amazing, this much ice along with as much sleet as they had. Measuring ice can be tricky. If you measure 1.5 inches on that power line on the left(or a tree, probably a bad idea doing the power line) you'd have to consider the ice also hanging down. If you average the icicles in with the rest you're going to easily be over 2 inches. Some areas right around here recorded over 4 inches of liquid equivalent with this event, all into sub-freezing air.

Seeing thin vegetation do this is amazing every time. Seen it 3 of the last 3 years now. 2006 was even worse in south central Nebraska with 2-3 inches of ice on things(and locally greater than 3) . 2007 in northwest Missouri and southeast Nebraska was just about this thick, but not quite(really really close).

Low hanging power lines. I touched them to make sure they weren't hot. (haha?)

It was kind of interesting how the low clouds picked up as you got into the area with ice. Interesting but not friendly for shooting, since the metering will change over and over.


Driving around the east side of Springdale now, which is a decent sized city. Weight just yanked it right off the wall.

No skateboarding.

Shot of one of the more clear streets.

I find it is really hard to photograph streets that are highly messed up(ones far worse than the above). When the street is extremely messed up you're lucky to have one lane. During big ice events people are quite often not at work, but at their homes picking up things and just out and about. People are just all over, which makes one lane areas that much tougher. If you stop to take a photo in those places you'll just be in someone's way. I also am not thrilled to point a camera at anyone and snap a picture and essentially I won't. I missed a lot of good ops for the above reasons. Some areas you get into, you enter it knowing you'll be screwed if there is a car that comes down it from the other direction. One of you will just have to back out of it. The one towards the end, right before I left, was insane. Tires rubbing on sawed off trees on each side, through this twisty hilly mess. I really wanted to stop, get out and take some pictures, but that would look and be bad for any locals coming down it the other way.

Just about didn't see this power line down low, yet off the ground. Some residential areas you'd get lost in after a few dead ends, and soon wonder which route would even get you back out of there.

The area around the motel I got still had power/lights and simply looked amazing at night.

Further east into town at another area with power. Just crazy looking at night there.

As it got later in the evening low clouds were trying to thicken up some and create the fog that would be thick by morning.

Not this still, but another of this intersection I just about captured a wreck. These intersections were sort of strange. This one blinked yellow this way and red the other. To me that means just drive through the yellow. Many were stopping at them though. This lead to many expecting everyone to stop at the yellows...as was the case with the almost wreck/honking here before this one. I think I was honked at once as well. All day it sucked driving around here since 90% of the traffic lights weren't on at all.

It's now morning. I didn't get much sleep again, which was crazy considering how little I got the night before. I went to sleep a bit before midnight, distracted by how cool it looked outside and wanting to shoot it more. As I lay there I had a problem each time I'd start to drift into sleep/dreaming. My awake thoughts would turn into dreams, but every time it would be me sliding off a damn road. It would startle me right back awake. I was sliding into grass, I was sliding into this cop car, and I was sliding into trees. I had to have done this a good 20 different times, often the same exact scene. Over and freaking over. Doze off, bam, sliding into something, wake right back up. I set my alarm for 5:30 I think, but I wake up around 3:30. I get up and think, screw it, I may as well get out of bed and go out rather than sit here and try to fall back asleep the next couple hours. I need to learn how to better manage sleep on these trips/chases as I'm severely bad at it. So anyway, the above photo was around 6 a.m. I think. Fog was really really thick, visibility about 2 blocks.

This is the same general area as the previous one. Get much away from here and there was no power.

I quickly learned it was really not much fun trying to drive down dark streets, in pea soup fog, with trees and power lines blocking roads/lanes all over. So I stop here and shoot a bit till it lightens.

I really wish I had thought about how cool some ops would be in the dark. I'd have made sure to have done more of it. I should have just slept very early when I first checked into the motel instead of doing the night shots. I then could have woke up really early, done those same night shots and the fog ones earlier.

Bet ya can't make it!

The roads sucked as it was now not just freezing fog on them but it was snowing on them at times. The radio reports didn't sound too encouraging about any plans to venture on northeast of here on the lesser highways. I thought I'd wait till the sun came out and then try, but I didn't really figure the fog would take as long as it did to burn off.

By now I was getting extremely tired of being in the way of others, or not wanting to shoot something because people were out in the area/shot. So I stopped in a parking lot of some old school/admin building. Not sure what it was exactly. It was empty and I was getting damn sleepy. Soon as I actually decide to take a nap(like 9 a.m.) and lay the seat back, two trucks come in with a generator and sand for the sidewalks. Sigh. So I left there and drove around some more, trying to stay awake.

I wind up here, at Springdale's cemetery. I didn't search it out or anything, the road just took me here. Some spooky photo ops in here for sure.

Wasn't a lot of resting in peace going on in here at the moment.

Fog still refusing to burn off. It wasn't quite thick enough now either, to be really cool for photography.

Sun poking out up in the upper left. It would tease me with coming out completely pretty much from 9 till 1:30 when I gave up on it and went home.

The place looked amazing when the sun would come out more. I was usually in the truck then and have to get out and find a good shot, only for it to go back behind a cloud. When it is doing that it is really messing with your exposure setting.

I think a person with a zoom lens and some time on their hands could get a lot of crashing branches like this one. They tend to give you some advanced warning. They'll sit there and creak and stop, creak and stop.....then pow crash. I just happened to be standing out of the truck with the zoom looking at some perspectives waiting on the sun to come back out. It didn't really give a long creaking warning on this one. I had just enough time to turn around shoot one, back out quickly and snap this one. No time to mess with focus or anything else. I got another one later at a house, but not as sharp.

Confliction...or not.

I'm now in go home mode, taking one last road north before getting on the interstate again. This road sucked amazingly bad in spots. I wish I had gotten some shots of the one area I could barely get through, which went on for a good bit really badly. I stopped and was going to get out and get some shots but kept hearing some truck winding up somewhere nearby. I figured I'd get out to take the shot and it would come down the hill and one of us would have to back up forever and a day through what was hard to get through going forward, let along backward.

A couple times I had to go under power lines which I wasn't terribly sure were going to miss the antenna. I was like, well I hope that's not live and if it is I miss it.

The only reason I took these shots here is because there was a yard here with a pull in thing. Most sections of crap like this you just had no where to stop and get out. You also wanted to get through them quickly before a car came from the other direction.

That might have been the one power line I drove under, barely missing the antenna. It has to be one of them as I know I had to drive under that.

Then I drove home. I could only hang around so long, or the drive back would just be that much harder, already sleepy as hell. Sun was pissing me off anyway, taking a year to really come out. It was warming some now too and the ice showering was getting old.

It's sad to think about how long folks down there will have no power. This type of icing covered an extremely large area from eastern OK, through northern AR on northeast. At least it's not bitterly cold there at the moment. May not be for a while too. But still, seeing as much damage in just that one city, it's mind boggling how much work there will be to pick it all up. These ice storms seem to be "spreading the wealth" the last few years, making sure to screw up new areas.

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