Weather concerns prompt La. schools, offices to close

The threat of ice on roads, especially on elevated roadways and bridges, pushed a number of schools around East Baton Rouge Parish to decide to close Friday , including public school systems in East Baton Rouge Parish, Central, Baker and Zachary.

The National Weather Service Slidell office on Thursday evening was forecasting a chance of precipitation overnight, which if it occurred, would start off as rain, then turn to rain and sleet until 1 a.m. after which snow would be possible.

There is a possibility that some areas could see a half-inch or less of snow and sleet accumulation.

“The models are leaning more toward snow at the moment, or a wintery mix at least,” said Barry Keim, state climatologist.

The forecasts called for a chance of snow and sleet before 10 a.m. Friday morning with another slight chance of rain and snow between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., which factored into the school officials’ decisions to close.

But, officials from the National Weather Service and the East Baton Rouge Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness said the icy weather shouldn’t have a major impact in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Most of the expected snow or sleet would be during a two- or three-hour window at the middle of the night, said JoAnne Moreau, director of the East Baton Rouge Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness.

Metro Airport spokesman Jim Caldwell said Thursday that flights were going out as scheduled and there was no expectation that flights would be affected Friday either, although passengers are always encouraged to check their flight status.

The National Weather Service also didn’t expect much of a problem with major accumulation of snow or sleet in Baton Rouge.

“Surface streets, we’re really not expecting a lot of accumulation,” said Phil Grigsby, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The only potential problem areas could be the bridges over the Mississippi River or other elevated roadways because they cool off a lot faster than surface streets, which could result in icy conditions.

Areas south or east of the Baton Rouge metro area, such as Prairieville or Denham Springs, could see a light dusting of snow on lawns or cars, but nothing major is expected, he said.

The National Weather Service has consistently said this is a difficult weather system to forecast and that any chance of snow or sleet is iffy, but it certainly will be cold.

A hard freeze warning is in effect from 10 p.m. Thursday until 11 a.m. Friday.

State Police planned to monitor road conditions throughout the night looking for any areas of concern having to do with the cold weather.

“It’s certainly something we’re monitoring,” Capt. Doug Cain, public affairs commander with State Police, said on Thursday. “Ice on bridges is certainly a concern for us and black ice is a concern.”

Cain said State Police is encouraging people to stay off the roads in bad conditions, but if they have to be on the road to make sure their car is prepared.

“The last place you want to be stranded is on the side of the road in sub-freezing temperatures,” Cain said.

People can register to receive road alerts through the nixle notification system accessed through the Louisiana State Police website to get text alerts for the entire state or just specific areas of the state, he said.

In addition, road closures are posted on the State Police website at www.lsp.org. If any drivers see road problems, they are asked to call *LSP (*577)

Rodney Mallett, communications director with Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, said emergency operations center were opened Thursday and the department planned to have staff monitor traffic cameras through the night.

“We have all equipment on standby whether it’s for sand, de-icing or salt,” Mallett said. “If deemed unsafe, roads will be closed, but the goal is to keep them open.”

People can get road information by calling 511 for the Traveler Information System or at www.511la.org.

Although temperatures are expected to warm up Sunday and Monday, another cold front will be heading into the area Tuesday with temperatures back in the 20s.