South Louisiana’s weather is predicted to change for the wetter starting Saturday night, easing drought conditions that have caused lawns to become brittle and prompted the fire marshal to issue a burn ban for the entire state.
More than a month has passed since Baton Rouge has had significant rain, and the rest of the state hasn’t fared much better. Almost 54 percent of the state is in extreme drought, but relief could be on the way this weekend and into next week.
“Right now, we are the drought hot spot east of the Rocky Mountains,” said Barry Keim, the state climatologist.
In Baton Rouge, there has been only 0.14 inches of rain over the last 30 days, which is about 4 percent of normal. The Lafayette area is worse, with only 0.13 inches of rain, or about 3 percent of normal. New Orleans has fared a bit better, with 1.2 inches of rain, or 36 percent of normal.
“It’s been like that for months,” Keim said. “It’s gotten us into a pretty deep hole.”
Over the last three months, Baton Rouge has received only about half of the rain it normally gets — 7.8 inches instead of 14.7 inches — and Lafayette and New Orleans have been significantly down as well.
That is expected to change starting Saturday night, when a 20 percent chance of rain is in the forecast, increasing to an 80 percent chance Sunday evening across the coast.
“We’re confident we’re going to get rain. We’re less confident in the amount of rain,” said Danielle Manning, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “The farther west you go, the more rain you’re going to get.”
Winds of 20 mph with gusts up to 35 mph could accompany the rainy weather in southwest Louisiana.
Currently, the National Weather Service is calling for southwest Louisiana to get between 5 and 7 inches of rain, with about 4 to 5 inches in southeast Louisiana, she said. Some areas could see higher rainfall before Wednesday, she said.
“That would take a pretty good chunk out of the deficit problem,” Keim said. “What we don’t want is all of this to fall at one time.”
The rain is the result of a low pressure system off the coast that will draw in some of the moisture from Hurricane Patricia that hit Mexico on Friday as a Category 5 hurricane.
These are two separate weather systems, and it’s not expected that Hurricane Patricia will have a direct effect on the United States other than rain. There will be higher tides and winds along southwest Louisiana and lots of rain.
Sunday afternoon through Monday could also bring possibilities of waterspouts and tornados, according to the National Weather Service.
It’s unlikely the drought will be much of problem over the winter with a very strong El Niño weather condition in full swing. This weather pattern develops because of higher than normal sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean around the equator. El Niño conditions typically bring cooler, wetter winters to Louisiana.
El Niño conditions can also cause severe weather, and since this one is shaping up to be close to El Niños of 1982-83 and 1997-98, that could spell some concern for flooding.
In 1998, a storm in March made roads impassable in parts of St. Tammany Parish, brought hail to a number of cities and cut off all but one road into Abita Springs.
A storm earlier in the year dropped 12 inches of rain in about eight days.
In 1983, severe storms caused flooding of the Amite and Comite rivers, and in all about 5,000 homes and businesses flooded with a damage estimate of $170 million. The heavy rain continued later in the spring, contributing to flooding in Baton Rouge that turned Tiger Bend and Hoo Shoo roads into canals.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.