Forecasters are predicting a chilly start to 2018 across southeast Louisiana, with temperatures significantly below average and even the possibility of, dare we say it, snow overnight on New Year's Eve.
Temperatures are set to fall into the 20s throughout the region on the nights of Jan. 1 and Jan. 2, though Lafayette and Baton Rouge will likely see colder weather than New Orleans and the south shore, meteorologists said. They also said models are still somewhat unreliable because the cold snap remains about a week out.
Danielle Manning, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Slidell, said temperatures will dip well below normal early next week, but stressed that such weather is nothing too unusual for January.
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She said forecasters are much less certain about the possibility of snow, which could result from cold air pushing south from the Arctic and colliding with moisture already present in the area. Rain during the day Sunday could turn to wintry mix for a few hours overnight as temperatures drop, though no accumulation is predicted as of now.
Whether we get any snow, sleet or ice "is really going to come down to the timing of both the moisture and the cold front," she said. "Small changes in timing can mean big changes for the actual weather."
The normal minimum and maximum temperatures for Dec. 31 in the Baton Rouge area are 41 and 62, Manning said. The coldest New Year's Eve on record took place in 1983 when the temperature fell to 19 degrees overnight.
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Both Baton Rouge and New Orleans recorded a low of 29 on Dec. 9 of this year, making that the first freeze of the season.
In Acadiana, temperatures could drop below 20, but National Weather Service meteorologist Rob Megnia in Lake Charles said forecasters are currently working with two models, one of which calls for more extreme cold. The other predicts low temperatures in the 20s early next week. A small chance of snow is also possible.
Megnia said meteorologists will have a better idea of the forecast by the end of this week, but either way cold air will inundate the eastern half of the United States during "an unusual southern displacement of polar air."
That cold front will accompany high atmospheric pressure, which means clear sunny skies and dry air into Jan. 2, he said. The cold front will last through Jan. 3 before giving way to closer-to-average temperatures.
With frigid conditions on the horizon, Baton Rouge homeless shelters have already made plans to temporarily accept more peoples than usual as temperatures begin falling. Both The Salvation Army and the St. Vincent de Paul Society expanded their capacities early this week because of cold weather and plan to continue offering beds for people who need them later this week and into next.
Maj. Brett Meredith, commander of The Salvation Army in the Baton Rouge area, said their shelter at 7361 Airline Highway can accept up to 15 additional men during cold snaps. A few more than usual came in Christmas Eve and Christmas day, but Meredith anticipates even more will seek shelter once temperatures drop even more.
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"When it gets down to about 20 degrees, more do come in and we’re always there trying to provide hope and help for those who come to us," he said, adding that staff have extra hot meals and can often provide hats and gloves to people coming in without them.
Michael Acaldo, president and CEO of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Society Baton Rouge, said the organization also expands its capacity when temperatures drop below 40 degrees. Given the forecast this week, he said, the shelter will probably continue operating under that expanded capacity for the next several days, welcoming in more people the colder it gets.
An addition to the organization's new Sweet Dreams Shelter for women and children is also expected to open soon, adding 40 beds to the facility, which currently has 36 beds. Acaldo said he hopes to have an occupancy permit for the addition within the next couple of weeks.
He said donations of warm clothes — particularly men's coats as well as blankets, towels, pillows and rain gear — are especially needed this winter. Donations are accepted between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. at 220 St. Vincent de Paul Place.