Louisiana’s ongoing battle with the coronavirus meant the state was already on track for a less-than-festive Fat Tuesday, but record cold temperatures and icy conditions further dampened spirits across the state.
The recent spate of winter weather continued Tuesday, causing power outages and widespread road closures in some parts of the state.
State Climatologist Barry Keim said this Mardi Gras may be the coldest in recent memory, but was not the coldest in history.
“It’s bitterly cold out there, however the 26 degrees in New Orleans is not the coldest Mardi Gras ever,” Keim said.
That record was set more than 120 years ago on February 14, 1899, when temperatures dropped to 22 degrees.
But Keim noted that the greater New Orleans area experienced some of the mildest weather in the state.
“Once you get outside of that extreme southeastern part of the state, the carnage was pretty high, pretty much state wide,” Keim said.
On Tuesday, the temperature dipped to 20 degrees in Baton Rouge, 16 degrees in Lafayette and 3 degrees in Shreveport.
Low temperatures in the Acadiana region contributed to at least two weather-related deaths.
On Monday, the Louisiana Department of Health reported that Carol Matthews, a 50-year-old Carencro man, died after slipping on ice and hitting his head. And the Lafayette Police Department reported that Mary Guillory, age 74, was found dead in her neighbor’s front yard Tuesday morning. Guillory died of exposure after leaving her home late Monday night in search of assistance. Neighbors told The Acadiana Advocate that Guillory suffered from dementia.
Utility companies are still working to restore power to Louisiana residents after this week’s winter weather downed trees and left large swaths of the state blanketed in ice.
Outages peaked Monday night for Entergy, Louisiana’s largest utility company. More than 137,000 customers were without power. By Tuesday afternoon that number was cut in half.
Entergy Spokesperson Brandon Scardigli said most customers in the capital region should have their power restored by Tuesday night.
“A few of those inside the metro Baton Rouge area — that really was hit the hardest — some of those may linger into tomorrow, but we’re doing our best to get them back on as quickly and as safely as we possibly can,” Scardigli said.
As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, more than 90,000 outages were reported across all electricity providers, with the greatest concentration of outages — more than 30,000 — occurring in East Baton Rouge Parish. About 13,500 outages were reported in neighboring Livingston Parish and nearly 16,000 outages were reported in southwest Louisiana’s Calcasieu Parish.
Scardigli said with icy road conditions and widespread tree damage, the restoration process could take longer than what most customers are used to seeing.
“Usually if you have a hurricane that knocks out our substation or transmission lines, it's easier to get those fixed and to get a large chunk of customers back on line,” Scardigli said. “That’s just not what we’re seeing with this ice storm. It’s a totally different ball game for us.”
Instead utility workers are going street-to-street removing shattered tree limbs from power lines.
With more freezing temperatures forecast for later this week, Entergy is urging Louisiana residents to conserve energy and prevent rolling blackouts by setting their thermostats between 65 and 68 degrees.
State Trooper Taylor Scrantz said the prolonged cold weather has led to significant accumulation of ice on bridges and overpasses.
Large portions of I-10 between Baton Rouge and Lafayette remain closed, including the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge and the Horace Wilkinson Bridge, which carries I-10 over the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, Scrantz said. And the eastbound section of U.S. 61 at Gramercy was closed after a driver crashed into a destroyed 30 feet of bridge railing, he added.
“The main thing we want to urge to our drivers is to stay home if you can,” Scrantz said. “If you have to get on the road and you’re an essential worker, be extremely careful on the roadway, especially when you’re going over bridges and overpasses.”
Scrantz instructed people to drive at speeds well below the posted limit and to bring water and a blanket to keep warm in the event of a crash.
“Although we are coming, it may take a couple of hours for us to get there,” Scrantz said.