Damaging winds and potentially heavy rainfall will be the greatest danger to the Baton Rouge region when Hurricane Marco makes landfall in southeast Louisiana and moves inland Monday evening, forecasters said Sunday.
Louisiana is facing an unprecedented double punch as Category 1 Hurricane Marco approaches Grand Isle, followed by an anticipated Category 2 Hurricane Laura crashing ashore near the Louisiana and Texas border Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Slidell expect Marco will dump about 2 to 4 inches of rain in the capital region, which will be hit by wind speeds around 40 to 50 mph beginning Monday afternoon and lasting into Tuesday morning.
“Monday night is going to be the worst weather for Baton Rouge,” said NWS meteorologist Phil Grigsby.
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The hurricane will likely weaken quickly after it makes landfall near Grand Isle and will turn west, almost parallel to Louisianan’s coastline, he said.
Some isolated areas could see higher amounts of rain, leading to possible flooding in low areas. Forecasters also anticipate parishes near Lake Maurepas and other waterways could see minor flooding from storm surge.
Powerful wind gusts could also topple trees and power lines, resulting in outages and property damage, weather officials said. Small tornadoes could also form in some areas.
"We will be prepared, but it's also a collaborative effort," East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-president Sharon Weston Broome said Sunday ahead of issuing an emergency declaration for the parish. "We will do everything possible, but we need our citizens to comply with the directives that we give."
The emergency declaration allows East Baton Rouge Parish to tap into federal and state resources if needed.
Because Laura is likely to hit within 48 hours after Marco, state and local leaders voiced concerns any impacts caused by Marco, such as power outages, may be difficult to fix until after Laura passes.
East Baton Rouge public works crews have been clearing debris from certain areas and activated four of the parish's pumps and drained the lake near the governor's mansion so it can hold more water.
Ascension Parish activated pumping at its station in the McElroy Swamp ahead of the storms, amid concerns of heavy rain and possible storm surge that could overwhelm its floodwater storage capacity.
It’s unclear where exactly the tropical events will make landfall, with Laura being an even greater uncertainty until it moves into the Gulf of Mexico, forecasters say.
Several school districts and colleges in the Baton Rouge region on Sunday called off classes and virtual instruction because of the incoming hurricanes.
Public school districts closing Monday and Tuesday include the East Baton Rouge school district, as well as schools in Zachary and Central. Several suburban parishes also announced similar closures, and the Diocese of Baton Rouge canceled classes for the entire week.
Episcopal School of Baton Rouge is closing both in-person and virtually Monday through Wednesday.
LSU canceled campus activities for Monday, and Southern University closed its campus until Wednesday.
Court buildings in the 19th Judicial District will also be closed Monday and Tuesday, and East Baton Rouge Parish Family Court will hold remote hearings if there are no power outages. East Baton Rouge libraries also announced they would close until Wednesday.
Ferry services run by the state will shut down if winds reach 39 mph.
U.S. Postal Service officials also suspended mail on Monday for much of south Louisiana, including Baton Rouge.
The coronavirus pandemic also complicates the state’s hurricane response.
Broome said, if needed, the parish can house people in hotels where they're able to maintain social distancing and could open group shelters as a last resort.
She and state leaders have recommended residents add items like hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and two masks per person along with food, water and other common hurricane supply items.
"I want to encourage everyone: Don't be fearful," Broome said. "If we all work together, if we all keep the faith (and) if we all prepare prayerfully, we will get through this."