A blast of arctic air will send most of south Louisiana into a two-day cold snap Wednesday night and Thursday, dropping temperatures below freezing and possibly into the teens.
As a result, Lafayette and Baton Rouge are under a hard freeze watch from late Wednesday evening through Thursday morning, while New Orleans is under a freeze watch. Temperatures will start going back up Friday afternoon, but before then, people should protect water pipes, bring pets inside, make accommodations for livestock and generally get ready.
In Baton Rouge, the coldest time will be early Thursday morning, when the frigid temperature will be bolstered by the wind to make the air feel like it’s 13 degrees outside, said Robert Ricks, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service in Slidell.
The winds should drop off Thursday, but the temperatures will still be cold with near-freezing temperatures hitting large parts of south Louisiana.
The approach of cold weather means extra preparations should be taken. Precautions are already underway at organizations that help the homeless, such as St. Vincent de Paul in Baton Rouge.
Extra cots are set out at one of the men’s facilities and staff is getting ready for more people to arrive for a warm place to stay, including at the shelter for women and children. On a normal night, the men’s shelter on Convention Street can sleep 31 people, but that number can be doubled by adding bunks to the existing beds, said Michael Acaldo, director of St. Vincent de Paul in Baton Rouge.
The campus on Convention Street has 36 beds for women and children as well as eight cribs. St. Vincent de Paul is currently in a fundraising effort to raise money that will allow that shelter to expand to 70 beds to help meet community needs and help during cold weather.
With an expected larger than normal number of homeless people in the next couple days, St. Vincent de Paul could use donations of towels, pillows, diapers, deodorant, socks, underwear, rain gear, gloves and hats for men, women and children, Acaldo said. Donations can be dropped off at the St. Vincent de Paul campus at 1623 Convention St.
Some good weather news this week is that the expected weekend rain won’t start until after the cold air is gone. As a result, the area won’t see the damage of freezing rain much of south Louisiana endured last January with school, business and road closures.
That’s also decent news for state agriculture, which could take some hits in slower crawfish growth or some loss of strawberry production, but at least there’s no freezing rain, said Mike Strain, commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
“When you get the rain, it intensifies the effect of the cold,” he said.
However, it will get cold enough for farmers to take precautions. Those precautions include making sure livestock have adequate shelter and strawberry crops get covered. With sugar cane already cut and many other crops yet to be planted, this cold weather snap won’t have an effect on them, Strain said.
Cold weather may slow down crawfish growth for a couple days, but the warm weather should help the crop recover rather quickly.
For those crops that are currently in the field, such as strawberries, there could be some loss of flower buds, but with warmer weather coming back to the area in a couple days, the fields should recover, he said.
“It’s not going to be that cold for that long,” Strain said.
Strawberry farmers across the region spent Tuesday prepping for the coming cold. At Faust Farms in Amite, workers were hurrying to cover all their plants in advance of the frost.
“We’re in full swing right now,” owner Eddie Faust said before hurrying back to work.
He said the plants can handle temperatures in the 30s, but farmers start to worry when the mercury dips lower.
“Sure we’re nervous. … Every farmer’s nervous at this point in the game,” Faust said.
“We’re hoping it doesn’t do us much damage.”
Louisiana farmers must compete with strawberry growers in Florida. A deadly January frost could hurt their chances.
“Florida’s flooding the market right now,” Faust said.
Steve Hardy contributed to this report. Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.