Snow, freezing rain spread across Louisiana

by Walter Pierce

News flash: It's cold! And we're going to just keep our mouths shut about it.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Government offices, schools and universities shut down Tuesday across central and south Louisiana as a winter storm brought the threat of snow, sleet and freezing rain.

The National Weather Service predicted 1 to 3 inches of snow across much of the area, with up to half an inch of freezing rain in New Orleans and other areas south of Lake Pontchartrain.

State police said freezing rain was falling in the central Louisiana early Tuesday, but highways remained open except the elevated portion of Interstate 49 through Alexandria, where some icing was occurring. So far, the weather had not been blamed for injuries or deaths in Louisiana.

Authorities were asking motorists to stay off roads. Parking lots were mostly empty in New Orleans' usually busy business district and City Hall was closed.

Forecaster John Trares in Lake Charles said the freezing rain mixed with sleet and snow would move into southwest Louisiana through the morning.

On Monday, Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a statewide emergency, warning motorists to stay off roads once they become slippery.

Crews were working to keep major highways open for those who must travel Tuesday.

The heaviest snowfall was likely to be 1 to 3 inches from just north of Baton Rouge and across the Florida Parishes north of Lake Pontchartrain, National Weather Service meteorologist Fred Zeigler said.

Up to a quarter-inch of ice and an inch of snow also was likely in those areas, he said. Areas south of the lake were likely to get less than an inch of snow and up to one-half inch of freezing rain through Wednesday. Up to 3 inches of snow as well as freezing rain were expected in southwest Louisiana.

The inclement weather threated to slow or shut down traffic along Interstate 10 across the state's southern parishes and on Interstates 12, 55 and 59 in the Florida Parishes. Flight delays were expected at airports throughout south Louisiana.

In New Orleans, the transit authority pulled streetcars from their routes, replacing them with buses. Officials of the National World War II Museum said the museum would be closed Tuesday.

"While the snowfall will only last until Tuesday night, the impacts of this storm will happen until at least Thursday morning because of freezing temperatures in the forecast." Jindal said.

Jindal said 45 of Louisiana's 69 school systems - those from Rapides Parish south - would be closed Tuesday. State offices would be closed in 46 of the state's 64 parishes, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said.

Entergy Corp. was staging more than 2,100 workers around south Louisiana to be ready to fix any downed or broken power lines, said Dennis Dawsey, vice president of customer service for Entergy's Louisiana utilities. Other utilities were readying, too, for the threat that freezing rain could cause tree branches to fall on power lines.

"The impact of ice storms is very difficult to predict, but forecasts indicate the approaching weather system could be one of the most challenging the region has seen in years," he said.