With the possibility of snow and freezing temperatures on the horizon starting early Friday morning, Baton Rouge residents and officials were taking seriously the threat of winter weather, with the earliest school closings announced before noon Thursday — almost 24 hours before projected flurries could arrive.
By late afternoon, the East Baton Rouge school district had released its decision to cancel school, followed by a cavalcade of surrounding districts, charter schools and private schools as well as Baton Rouge City Hall, City Court and libraries.
The announcements came as rain continued steadily throughout the day Thursday, threatening the possibility of icy driving conditions and poor visibility overnight and into the morning commute.
Rodney Mallett, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation and Development, said the agency has "salt, equipment and staff ready in an effort to keep major state routes open should the need arise." He said crews will monitor roadways and decide whether to start applying salt and issue road closures where necessary as temperatures drop.
The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory for parts of southeast Louisiana beginning at 9 p.m. Thursday until noon Friday, which said the weather could impact some areas of the morning commute, though accumulation was unlikely.
National Weather Service meteorologist Alek Krautmann in the Slidell office said Thursday afternoon that the agency had already received a few reports of sleet mixed into rain. He said temperatures probably wouldn't drop low enough for water to freeze on roads, though pockets of heavy snow could make side roads slushy.
He said even lower temperatures and windy conditions Friday night into Saturday would make for a nasty start to the weekend — "just about as winter as it gets for this part of the state" — though precipitation will move out of the area before the weekend.
Tim Humphrey, a meteorologist at the Lake Charles National Weather Service office, said the Lafayette area expects about the same. The Lafayette Parish School District was among the first to cancel school on Friday.
Temperatures across southeast Louisiana are set to drop into the 20s Friday night, making a hard freeze possible in the Baton Rouge area, Krautmann said. Though warming up into the mid 50s Saturday afternoon, temperatures will remain about 10 degrees below average for this time of year.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul implemented a freeze plan for homeless residents on Wednesday because of the cold weather, saying the Bishop Ott Shelter Program was preparing to welcome more people inside its three overnight shelters and one day center, which will accommodate women and children.
Michael Acaldo, president and CEO of the organization, said Thursday that their shelters had already taken in roughly twice as many residents as earlier this week because even people who generally sleep outside are seeking somewhere warm to stay. All the shelters will remain open 24 hours a day while the cold weather persists and are preparing extra food, he said.
Acaldo said the organization is requesting donations of warm clothes, which are in short supply and more necessary than ever given the weather.