Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Hard Freeze Likely on Thursday

By Jay Grymes & Steve Caparotta

WAFB First Alert Quickcast:
- not quite as cold tonight
- “Hard Freeze” on the way for Thursday morning

60°s and sunshine this afternoon felt pretty good. But hopefully you’ve taken the opportunity to get ready for the bitter cold that arrives tomorrow night and into Thursday morning.

The National Weather Service has posted a HARD FREEZE WATCH for Thursday morning for most of the WAFB viewing area -- only St. Mary and the southern portions of Terrebonne and Lafourche are excluded and even there a freeze is expected. The WATCH will almost certainly be upgraded to a WARNING tomorrow as we await the arrival of the coldest air of the season thus far, delivering the lowest temperatures for the WAFB viewing area since last January.

The freezes we’ve experienced the past two mornings are just a hint at what is coming for Thursday: our current forecast calls for Thursday morning temperatures to drop into the low 20°s for metro Baton Rouge, with temperatures down in the ‘teens for areas near and north of the LA/MS state line. Those forecasted lows won’t be record-setters for Thursday, but they will get close. And frankly, anything in the low 20°s doesn’t need to be a record-breaker to get your attention! (By the way, while we aren’t ready to buy into it just yet, the NWS is calling for lows in the ‘teens for Baton Rouge!)

Before we get there, you’ve got some time to make preparations. Most WAFB neighborhoods will dodge a freeze tonight and into Wednesday morning, and those that due dip to freezing tomorrow morning won’t stay there long. But Wednesday afternoon won’t be nearly as mild as Tuesday afternoon -- the northern half of the WAFB viewing area will be lucky to reach 50° for a Wednesday high. And temperatures will start a rapid fall after sunset on Wednesday, with the Capital City likely to be at or below 32° before the 10pm newscast.

Factor in the expected winds from late Wednesday into early Thursday and we could see windchill readings as much as 10° lower than the air temperatures: that means single-digit windchills possible by Thursday's sun-up for many of WAFB’s northern communities. For those that have to work outdoors on Wednesday night into Thursday morning, we recommend several layers to fight the cold and cut the wind: if you will be outdoors for an extended period, a scarf or facemask would be a good idea too. We just aren’t accustomed to this kind of cold!

Plan on freezing temperatures for as much as 12 to 15 hours for metro Baton Rouge from Wednesday evening into Thursday morning, with durations of as much a 14 to 18 hours to the north and east of the Red Stick.

If you can’t bring the pets inside, make sure that they have a sheltered spot out of the wind with dry bedding -- they’re not ready for this kind of cold either. Needless to say, this freeze -- both in terms of the very low readings and the expected durations -- can be very destructive in the gardens. Cover the tender vegetation and bring the delicates indoors if possible. 

Most importantly, don’t forget your neighbors, especially those that struggle when it gets this cold. Be extra, extra careful with space heaters and supplemental heat sources -- three feet of clearance around those heaters and be sure to turn them off before heading to bed. We’ve seen too many house fires in the area already this winter.

And about the pipes? If you’ve got pipes that are susceptible to hard freezes, get them wrapped. And while it may seem wasteful, plumbers encourage allowing a “drip” or “trickle” for those pipes that proved to be frequent problems. It may cost a little to let the water run, but it can provide some piece of mind and save a ton compared to an emergency call for repairs!

Everybody gets above freezing for a handful of hours or more on Thursday: good news for those concerned about their pipes. In most cases, it’s the freeze duration that produces the ruptured plumbing, not so much the absolute low. While we won’t be above freezing for a prolonged spell -- maybe around 10 hours or so for Baton Rouge and less to the north and east of the Capital City -- that should be enough to warm the pipes a bit, and certainly allow you a chance to check the more susceptible plumbing.

But there will be another freeze for Thursday night into Friday morning and yet again for many of us on Saturday morning. Fortunately, neither will be anything as severe as Thursday morning’s chiller. Expect upper 20°s to around 30° for metro Baton Rouge for Friday’s sunrise and lows in the low 30°s for Saturday morning. Friday morning’s freeze might last as long as 8 hours or more for the Red Stick, with just a brief freeze for Saturday morning. (Of course, the freeze durations will be a bit longer for areas north and east of Baton Rouge).

Will this be the only “big chill” for the winter? It’s possible, but don’t bank on it. Long-range forecast ‘experts’ are calling for about an 80% chance for near-normal to below-normal temperatures through March, with better than a 40% chance for average seasonal temperatures to be well-below normal. That alone does not mean more Arctic outbreaks after this one, but it hints that we should be ready for another round or two over the next six weeks or so.

Here’s a quick update on some of our local rivers as of Tuesday afternoon:
*The Comite at Joor Rd. is now below 4 feet and in good shape.
*The Amite at Denham Springs crested yesterday at 27.1 ft and is now displaying a steady fall.
*The Amite at Bayou Manchac is nearing crest. The NWS River Forecast Center again lowered their forecast crest this morning: look for Bayou Manchac to crest this evening at around 5.7 ft.
*For the lower Amite, no problems anticipated for Port Vincent or French Settlement as forecasted crests have been lowered and no significant rises are expected in the coming days.
*The Tickfaw at Montpelier crested yesterday below floodstage and is showing a steady fall.
*The Tickfaw at Holden is still climbing, with the updated forecast calling for a peak of 14.0 ft on Wednesday evening, about one foot below floodstage.
*The Tangipahoa at Robert remains in flood but will crest this afternoon just above 16 feet (floodstage is 15.0 ft). The river is expected to begin a slow fall this evening, with the site back below floodstage by mid-day Wednesday.

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