BY: WESLEY MULLER
Louisiana is bracing for an Arctic blast expected to freeze most of the state early Friday morning, plunging temperatures into the low teens through Christmas Eve.
The National Weather Service and state officials are urging residents across the state to complete cold-weather preparations no later than Thursday. The threatening weather comes just one week after tornadoes tore through Louisiana, killing three people and damaging areas in Jefferson, St. Bernard, Caddo and other parishes.
Most of the state will experience a hard freeze after midnight Thursday as a frigid Arctic air mass envelops the northern Gulf Coast into the weekend. Temperatures in the teens with “dangerously cold wind chills” in the single digits are likely Friday morning, according to the NWS station in New Orleans.
Areas north of Lake Pontchartrain from Slidell to Baton Rouge could see temperatures as low as 11 to 13 degrees, and New Orleans will see lows around 20 degrees.
Mid-day Friday temperatures are forecast to inch up but may not break above freezing and will plummet again Friday night with lows in the teens and dangerous wind chills in the single digits. Highs may break above freezing Saturday afternoon.
NWS stations in Shreveport, Lake Charles and Jackson, Mississippi, have issued similar freeze warnings for those areas.
Portions of north Louisiana along or north of Interstate 20 could stay below freezing for up to 60 hours starting Thursday night.
Southwest Louisiana could see hazardous temperatures through the Christmas holiday weekend with prolonged hard freeze conditions and lows in the single digits possible.
In Mississippi, low temperatures will range from the single digits in the north to the teens along the coast.
The freeze warnings will remain in effect until 6 a.m. Sunday for most areas. The cold temperatures could burst outdoor pipes, kill crops and vegetation and cause hypothermia in humans and animals, the NWS warned.
Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a statement Tuesday, urging all residents across the state to prepare for the freeze by insulating pipes and checking on neighbors and relatives.
“I urge every Louisianan to prepare for the approaching Arctic outbreak and be ready to protect the four P’s — people, pets, plants, and pipes,” Edwards said. “Be sure to cover or insulate all exposed pipes and prepare for the possibility of cutting off your main water supply if you have a problem. And as always, please check on your friends, neighbors or family members that may struggle with these weather conditions. For information on warming stations or assistance in creating a severe weather plan, visit www.getagameplan.org.”
The winter storm will grip most of the country. The NWS has issued warnings for a large swath of the lower 48 from the Canadian border to the Gulf Coast. Blizzard conditions are expected from the Central Plains to the Great Lakes, strong winds and dangerous coastal flooding are possible in New England, while freezing rain and heavy snowfall could impact the Mid-Atlantic region.
Wind chill values could reach minus 70 degrees throughout parts of the central High Plains, and widespread wind chills below zero are forecast to extend as far south as Texas and parts of the Deep South through the end of the week.
“Cold of this magnitude could lead to frostbite on exposed skin within minutes, as well as hypothermia and death if exposure is prolonged,” the NWS said in its warning. “Livestock interests will also be severely impacted and dangers could be exacerbated if power outages occur.”