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Temperatures to plunge as Arctic air visits south Louisiana, see how to prepare

Graphic courtesy of National Weather Service
Graphic courtesy of National Weather Service

The polar vortex is wobbling again and will bring bitter-cold temperatures down to south Louisiana this weekend — just in time for the holidays.

National Weather Service meteorologist Hannah Lisney, who works in the Baton Rouge/New Orleans office, said temperatures are expected to start plunging as soon as Thursday night. The New Orleans area will likely drop into the low-20s, while the Baton Rouge area might see low temperatures in the teens.

“There is a very strong polar cold front that's gonna be coming down here into Louisiana from the northwest moving in Thursday evening,” said Lisney said on Wednesday. “That's why we'll see the temperatures start plummeting later that night.”

The polar vortex always exists near the poles, but it grows stronger during the winter. When its usual pattern is disrupted, the vortex slips and sends its icy air farther south with the jet stream, according to the National Weather Service. Some studiessuggest the wintry blasts are happening more frequently as a result of a changing climate, fueled largely by burning fossil fuels.

Lisney said the surge of “Arctic air” will travel down from northern Canada. A similar phenomenon occurred in early February 2021, knocking out power across parts of Louisiana and Texas.

But that was largely due to the ice and snow brought by the 2021 storm. This weekend, Lisney said forecasters don’t predict icy conditions and expect Friday through Sunday to remain dry following some drizzles on Thursday.

However, Lisney warned it will likely be very windy throughout the weekend, with wind chill temperatures dropping into the single digits in some areas.

“We definitely can't rule out some isolated power outages because of the wind,” she said, but the weather service doesn’t expect outages on the scale of 2021.

When going outside this weekend, she had two words of advice: “Bundle up.”

Both Lisney and Gov. John Bel Edwards stressed the importance of protecting the four P’s amid freezing temperatures: people, pets, plants, and pipes.

“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,” Edwards said Tuesday. “And as always, please check on your friends, neighbors or family members that may struggle with these weather conditions.”

Lisney also advised to keep your faucets dripping slightly to keep pipes from freezing and avoid bursts.

Forecasters expect the cold weather to stick around until Monday when the air will gradually begin to warm back up.

New Orleans triggers freeze plan: warming centers, power shut-offs suspended

New Orleans will set up three warming centers that will be open to the public beginning Thursday at 6 p.m., through Monday at 6 p.m.. The three 24/7 sites will have cots, hot evening meals, water and warm beverages, and charging stations. They are also equipped with backup power.

The three locations are not traditional shelters; they’re not equipped with showers or laundry services, said Collin Arnold, director of the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, at a Wednesday afternoon press conference. Instead, they’re meant for people to drop in and out as they please, he said, and as a last resort for people who need a place to sleep during the bitter cold. The locations are:

  • Joe Brown Recreation Center (5601 Read Blvd). This center is the only one that will accept pets. Accessible via the 9 Broad-Napoleon bus line.
  • Rosenwald Recreation Center (1120 S. Broad St.) Accessible via the 9 Broad-Napoleon bus line.
  • Cut-Off Recreation Center (6600 Belgrade St.) Accessible via the 114A Garden Oaks – Sullen or 103 General Meyer Local bus lines.

Some homeless shelters are also expanding their services for people to use during the extreme cold. They are:

  • Ozanam Inn, 2239 Poydras Street, accepting men and women
  • The New Orleans Mission, 1130 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., accepting men and women
  • Salvation Army, 4526 S. Claiborne Avenue, accepting men and women.  Entry fees are waived during the freeze
  • New Orleans Women and Children Shelter (families), outreach teams will call to accept families
  • City’s Low Barrier Shelter, 1530 Gravier Street, accepting men and women
  • Concerned Citizens for a Better Algiers, 1409 Nunez Street
  • Covenant House, 611 N. Rampart Street, accepting youth 16 – 22 years old (will accept a single parent with kids during the freeze)

Entergy New Orleans will be suspending power disconnects through Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, to ensure customers have heat through the cold front, said Entergy New Orleans President and CEO Deanna Rodriguez. The company does not anticipate system-wide issues from the severe weather, but customers will be immediately informed if outages occur, she added.

Residents should consider wrapping any exposed outdoor pipes, and dripping a faucet in their home furthest from the street, said Sewerage and Water Board executive director Ghassan Korban. All that’s needed is a “spaghetti thin trickle,” he said. If residents run too much water from their faucets at once, that could overwhelm the city’s water system, lower overall pressure and trigger boil water advisories.

Emergency officials urged residents to use extreme caution while driving, and to avoid elevated structures like bridges and overpasses, which can freeze more quickly than surface streets.

They also urged residents to avoid using barbecue pits or grills to warm up inside, which can cause fires or deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.

Residents can sign up for emergency alerts at ready.nola.gov. Find city updates on the extreme winter weather here. Find more tips for staying safe through winter weather here.

Halle Parker reports on the environment for WWNO's Coastal Desk. You can reach her at hparker@wwno.org.
Carly Berlin is the New Orleans Reporter for WWNO and WRKF. She focuses on housing, transportation, and city government. Previously, she was the Gulf Coast Correspondent for Southerly, where her work focused on disaster recovery across south Louisiana during two record-breaking hurricane seasons. Much of that reporting centered on the aftermath of Hurricanes Laura and Delta in Lake Charles, and was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.

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