Goodbye ice; roads now open as BR area warms up

Schools remain closed as Louisiana roads thaw out

After another cold, make that frigid, morning with temperatures dipping into the teens before slowly climbing into the 30s, Baton Rouge was leaving the freezing weather behind with much warmer temperatures expected this afternoon.

Early morning traffic was returning to normal Thursday. Motorists traveling Interstate 10, much of which opened Wednesday, move at usual speeds by 5:30 a.m. By early afternoon a State Police list of closed roads showed only one for Baton Rouge: the Central Thruway. Interstate 110, except for still closed entrance ramps at U.S. 190/U.S. 61, was declared open around 12:30 p.m..

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development had earlier announced that I-10 was open statewide.

Temperatures in Baton Rouge dipped to 18 degrees by 3 a.m. Thursday during the last throes of a cold weather system that has closed roads, schools and government offices since Tuesday, but an end is in sight.

Although weather and government officials warn that roads that were icy Wednesday evening will still remain hazardous Thursday morning, that situation should change throughout the day as temperatures warm up to 52 by the afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.

That warming trend will continue Friday with a high of 66 degrees and into Saturday where the temperatures are expected to be unseasonably warm at 72 degrees.

Mike Shields, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Slidell, said the normal high temperature for this time of year in Baton Rouge is 63 degrees, Shields said.

Although concerns about road conditions Thursday morning pushed a number of offices and schools, including East Baton Roue Parish public and Catholic schools, to close Thursday, things were already slowly returning to normal Wednesday evening.

A portion of Interstate 10, Lafayette to U.S. 61 in Ascension Parish, and Interstate 12, from Baton Rouge to Robert, were opened at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday, Louisiana State Police announced. Other portions of the interstate such as Interstate 110 in Baton Rouge and Interstate 10 in New Orleans remained closed Thursday morning, with an expected re-opening sometime Thursday.

For real time updates on roadway closures, crash locations, and pertinent safety information, stay tuned to the Louisiana State Police Facebook page, follow the LSP Twitter feed @LAStatePolice, or access the DOTD travel information database by calling 511 or logging onto 511la.org.

State Police, East Baton Rouge Parish and DOTD all report road closures online.

Some activities should start returning to normal Thursday, such as the resumption of garbage and recycling pickup, which will start at noon, and the reopening of the North Landfill at 1 p.m. Although the Baton Rouge city-parish offices will remain closed Thursday, some area government offices, like those of Livingston Parish, will be open.

LSU is expected to reopen for classes and university operations at 10 a.m., while Pennington Biomedical Research Center will resume business at 11 a.m., according to LSU system President F. King Alexander.

The opening of various roads in south Louisiana will depend largely on what happens overnight as standing water from some of the ice that melted during the day Wednesday could freeze again.

“We’ve seen a lot of roads drying (Wednesday), but remember, it doesn’t take a big patch of ice to lose control,” said Rodney Mallett, state Department of Transportation and Development spokesman. In preparation, DOTD crews have been running graders down Interstate 10 to chip away at the top layer of ice as well as doing other preparation work to help speed the thawing process when temperatures start to rise Thursday.

Doug Cain, spokesman for the Louisiana State Police, echoed caution for the early morning road conditions and issued yet another plea for drivers to be patient.

“We expect some challenges in the morning,” he said, adding that they’re optimistic about the warmer weather coming into the area by the late morning and early afternoon. In addition to the road work DOTD crews were doing Wednesday, Cain said, troopers led an 18-wheeler convoy along portions of the Interstate 10 corridor eastbound from Henderson to Lobdell early Wednesday evening to help further break up the ice — something State Police said helped last week during the previous ice storm.

As difficult as the past week has been with icy conditions and road closures, it could have been worse, said Barry Keim, state climatologist, because most of what seemed to fall from the sky was sleet and not freezing rain. Freezing rain is super-cooled rain that immediately freezes as soon as it hits something like a power line or tree limb. As this ice accumulates it can down power lines and trees, causing power outages.

Even though what fell was sleet, that didn’t make road conditions any better.

“There was enough heat storage in the ground that the sleet melted a little and then froze into a solid glaze over the road,” Keim said.

That solid glaze is what people who have been off the interstates and surface roads for several days will be waiting for to melt on Thursday, but it could take time. During the ice storm that ended Friday, the new Mississippi River bridge didn’t melt enough to provide safe travel until Saturday afternoon.