Winter weather rolls in

Michael Tortorich

Forecasters Thursday warned of potentially hazardous weather conditions for the area going into the Mardi Gras weekend.

The weather prompted Ascension Parish school officials to cancel classes for Friday. The school system will resume normal operations Wednesday after the Mardi Gras holidays, according to spokesperson Johnnie Balfantz.

Parochial schools, along with Ascension College and Louisiana Technical College in Sorrento, also closed.

In the event of snow, it would mark the second time in three months that the area has experienced such a rare winter event for south Louisiana.

A winter storm watch was put into effect from Thursday night to Friday afternoon for moderate to heavy snow, according to the National Weather Service in New Orleans.

The warning area was targeted for generally north of Ascension Parish, along the Interstate 10 and 12 corridor and extending from the Baton Rouge area to the northshore of Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi coast.

A winter storm warning means significant amounts of snow, sleet and ice are expected, and strong winds are possible.

For Ascension, forecasters said rain and snow was likely for Friday, possibly mixed with sleet. Heading into Saturday, mostly sunny conditions were expected.

Ascension Parish governmental officials monitored the conditions Thursday, and had the Public Works department on standby with equipment for loading sand on freezing bridges and overpasses, a parish spokesperson said.

With possible snow and rain in the forecast throughout the holiday weekend, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development said its maintenance forces will be on standby to apply sand and salt over any affected bridges and roadways, to remove fallen trees from the roadway.

The precipitation has the potential of freezing on the roadways to create black ice, a thin, nearly invisible coating of ice that forms on paved surfaces, according to Louisiana State Police Tpr. Russell Graham.

DOTD said it will also to close any roads as needed, and urged motorists to take the threat of winter weather seriously.

“In the event of adverse weather conditions, the department will strive to maintain access to Louisiana’s highways and interstates,” said Interim Secretary Sherri LeBas.

During winter weather conditions, the best thing motorists can do is drive slowly and carefully, and avoid driving while distracted, according to DOTD. Always allow for extra driving time, reduce speeds when visibility is low, and make sure there is plenty of room between vehicles. Also, look out for black ice, which can form on bridges, overpasses, off-ramps and in shady spots.

“We encourage the motoring public to avoid traveling during snow and ice, if at all possible,” said LeBas.

The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has activated the GOHSEP Crisis Action Team and is working with other state and local agencies to respond to winter weather conditions, according to spokesperson Veronica Mosgrove.

GOHSEP is coordinating preparedness and response efforts with the State Police DOTD to make sure impacted parishes have the resources needed in anticipation of snow, sleet, and potential icing of Louisiana roadways in parts of the state, Mosgrove said.    

“We are anticipating some potential problems this evening and into the early morning hours. We hope everyone prepares to be off the roads and indoors until the icy conditions subside,” GOHSEP Director Mark Cooper said.

Citizens can get the latest updates on real-time traffic and road conditions by using the 511 Traveler Information System simply by dialing 511 from their telephone and saying the route or region about which they are seeking information. Travelers can also access this information by visiting the 511 Traveler Information Web site at www.511la.org.

Motorists can also obtain information regarding road closures by contacting DOTD’s Customer Service Center at 1-877-4LA-DOTD (1-877-452-3683). The center is open 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

To contact the local State Police Troop office, dial *LSP (*577) from a cell phone.