Update, 6:30 a.m. Thursday
The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory for the Baton Rouge area beginning at 9 p.m. Thursday until noon Friday. Read the latest weather update here.
The National Weather Service in Slidell is predicting a small — but noteworthy — chance of snow falling between Thursday and Friday nights in southeast Louisiana accompanied by freezing temperatures into the weekend, and officials are already taking precautions.
In its hazardous weather outlook for the region updated Wednesday evening, the agency said that a mix of rain and snow could occur late Thursday night into Friday mainly across areas of south central and southeast Louisiana, to the north and west of Lake Pontchartrain into south Mississippi. But it remains too early to determine the likelihood of any accumulation, and precipitation will likely become all rain after 8 a.m.
An even stronger cold front is expected to move through the area Friday evening bringing freezing temperatures to the region Friday and Saturday nights along with wind chill temperatures in the low to mid 20s for some areas, according to forecasters.
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Much like during hurricane season, meteorologists use computer models to develop forecasts.
Ken Graham, National Weather Service meteorologist in charge at the Slidell office, said Wednesday morning that the current situation is unusual and makes predicting snow especially difficult. Normally the cold air has already settled over the area before moisture arrives, but in this case forecasters are predicting a "race" between moisture leaving and cold air arriving, he said.
Graham said that in general "the confidence is really low" in terms of current models. The temperature will drop Thursday night into Friday, but the question of snow depends on whether two separate weather disturbances — one currently over Alaska and the other over the Pacific — converge over southeast Louisiana at the same time.
"If all those things come together correctly, we’ll get some snow," Graham said. "It’s so sensitive. Not clear cut at all. There are reasons this isn't easy to predict."
Robert Ricks, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Slidell, said that although still far from certain, forecast models grew slightly more confident in the possibility of snow throughout the day on Wednesday.
In the Lafayette area, meteorologist Andy Tingler in the National Weather Service's Lake Charles office said that forecasters are predicting a very slim chance of snowflakes mixed into rain early Friday.
"It would be more of a novelty than anything else" because projected temperatures are too warm for any real accumulation, he said.
Southeast Louisiana hasn't experienced snow accumulation since Feb. 10, 2012, when about 1 inch fell in the Baton Rouge area. New Orleans last received measurable snowfall almost 10 years ago on Dec. 11, 2008. In 2004 the city received half an inch on Christmas Day.
The most snow ever recorded in Baton Rouge was 12.5 inches in February 1895, according to state Climatologist Barry Keim.
Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's office said Wednesday that officials are constantly monitoring the weather conditions, and the mayor "will make any cancellations and decisions to keep our citizens safe" when the time comes. Officials also stressed that residents should check on neighbors and family members who may need assistance during winter weather, and take care of their pets accordingly. Those who use heaters and fireplaces should also be careful.
Rodney Mallett, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation and Development, said the agency is also monitoring the weather and "has staff, equipment and deicing materials ready in an effort to keep state routes open should the need arise."
In Baton Rouge, several holiday events were already cancelled this week because of the ominous weather forecasts. Baton Rouge General canceled the holiday lights display for Thursday night, while BREC cancelled Caroling in the Park on Friday because weather conditions would not allow them to finish setting up for the event.
However, Friday school cancellations for East Baton Rouge Parish were not in order as of Wednesday evening. East Baton Rouge Parish schools spokesman Gwynn Shamlin said administrators had not yet discussed the possibility of cancelling school.
Meanwhile Loyola University in New Orleans postponed its annual Sneaux celebration — which includes hot chocolate, Santa and fake snow — due to rain and inclement weather. It will now take place Thursday, Dec. 14 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Marquette Horseshoe.
New Orleans had not announced any school closures as of Wednesday. But a freeze plan will go into effect for homeless residents on Wednesday night and remain until Saturday morning. Four area shelters will open their doors to people who need somewhere to stay.
The Salvation Army on South Claiborne Avenue and The New Orleans Mission on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard will accept men and women, while Ozanam Inn on Camp Street will only accept men. Those three shelters will begin taking residents at 4 p.m. Covenant House on North Rampart Street will accept teens and young adults up to 21, their children, and any mother with minor children.
In Baton Rouge, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul similarly implemented a freeze plan for homeless residents. The organization announced in a news release Wednesday that the Bishop Ott Shelter Program is preparing to welcome people in need of shelter during the upcoming cold snap and expects to fill all beds and make room for emergency cases inside its three overnight shelters and one day center, which will accommodate women and children.
“Cold temperatures always put extra stress on the limited resources and volunteers of our small nonprofit,” the organization said in a statement. An expansion to the Sweet Dreams Shelter for women and children, which is adding 40 beds to the facility that currently has 36 beds, is expected to open “before the winter months of January and February.”
The organization asked that people wishing to help could donate the following items: disposable diapers, coats, underwear, socks, knit caps, gloves, scarves, reading glasses, slippers, feminine hygiene products, toiletries, paper products and rain gear.
Advocate staff reporter Jessica Williams contributed to this report.