While well to the east of Tropical Storm Harvey’s destructive path, the parishes in the Baton Rouge region are expected to get soaked with 4 to 8 inches of rain through Thursday as the storm makes its way across Louisiana.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the National Weather Service was predicting slightly heavier rain to the east, from Hammond into coastal Mississippi, from stronger rain bands.
Freddie Zeigler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Slidell, however, cautioned against taking too much comfort in such forecasts. Levels of rain from tropical storms like Harvey are hard to predict, and conditions can change fast.
“The public needs to be abreast of what to do if they need to move to higher ground,” Zeigler said.
Harvey made landfall in Texas on Friday as a Category 4 hurricane. It then stalled over the Texas Gulf Coast, dumping massive amounts of rain onto Houston and the surrounding areas. By Tuesday it was still hammering Texas but wobbling northwest towards Louisiana.
State government offices and schools weren’t taking any chances; most decided to close up shop for Wednesday. Ascension Parish was first in the area to pull the trigger, closing schools early Tuesday due to street flooding, and later closing them for Wednesday as well. LSU also announced it's cancelling classes Wednesday. Parkview Baptist School was one of the only holdouts; as of late Tuesday, the private school in Baton Rouge was still planning to have school Wednesday.
East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome ordered the parish's emergency operations command center activated at 7 a.m. Tuesday but stopped short of declaring a state of emergency. She said to do so would indicate the threat outstrips the community's capacity to respond, which at that point was unlikely.
Broome activated the command center on the first day of the job for East Baton Rouge's emergency preparedness director, Clay Rives. Three hours later, he'd be thrust in front of news cameras to help convey a message of guarded hopefulness.
"We are prepared," Rives assured the public. "We're here to help. We're here to protect the health safety and welfare of our citizens."
As Harvey advanced, it sparked flash flood warnings in parts of Cameron and Calcasieu parishes, and a handful of tornado warnings were also issued — at least one apparent tornado was caught on video in Acadia Parish.
"We've got 48 hours to go before this storm moves north enough … but that's going to be a long 48 hours because we've got people who have been watching this storm for a long time now and feeling the effects for the last couple of days," Gov. John Bel Edwards told emergency leaders during a visit to Calcasieu Parish in southwest Louisiana, where hundreds of people have had to evacuate their homes.
About 250 people were in shelters in southwest Louisiana as of Tuesday afternoon.
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy also visited people in Lake Charles who had sought shelter Tuesday, and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves helped sort donated items in Ascension Parish.
FEMA has a team in place in Louisiana. "We're not out of the woods yet," FEMA Louisiana coordinator Bill Doran said.
President Donald Trump has said he wants to visit Louisiana on Saturday to see the damage from Harvey. He spent Tuesday in Texas, taking in recovery and response efforts in Corpus Christi and Austin.
Gov. Edwards, who has spoken to the president multiple times in preparation for Harvey, said details are still being worked out for Trump's visit.
"If he does decide to come in Louisiana on Saturday, we don't know where he's going to want to go or what he will want to see," Edwards said, adding that he suspects southwest Louisiana would be high on the list because it's home to the five parishes that have received federal disaster declarations.
The American Red Cross on Tuesday issued a call for volunteers in Louisiana for training on helping at shelters, with psychological needs of disaster victims and assisting people with their recovery plans. The organization scheduled training classes for the remainder of this week in Alexandria, Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Shreveport.
The western edge of Louisiana, from Lake Charles to Fort Polk, was forecast to get the worst of what Harvey had to offer, areas northwest of the likely center of the advancing tropical storm.
Stephen Carboni, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Lake Charles, said those areas will likely see 6 to 8 inches through Thursday, perhaps more. The track of the storm could drift eastward as Harvey approaches land, so the heavy rain could hit a bit farther east, he said.
Significant rain is being predicted in the rest of Louisiana, perhaps as much as 10 inches in spots, but Carboni said it will be less persistent and intense than the rain near the storm’s center.
Although no longer a hurricane, Tropical Storm Harvey is bringing with it some storm surge. The National Weather Service was predicting surge ranging from 2 to 4 feet between Holly Beach and Morgan City. That’s a foot higher than the agency predicted earlier in the day, but Carboni said it’s not that significant an upgrade.
“I don’t know that an additional foot is going to mean too much,” he said.
Advocate staff writers Elizabeth Crisp and Steve Hardy contributed to this story.