A cold air mass blowing in from the Arctic could bring at least three hard freezes in a row to the New Orleans area this weekend and potentially affect Christmas travel plans.
National Weather Service forecasters have predicted frigid low temperatures for the Christmas weekend, the coldest on record as fall gives way to early winter.
Temperatures are expected to peak Thursday at 66. However, forecasters are expecting a low of 40 degrees Thursday night into Friday morning.
“It’s quite possible that some locations will not be above freezing on Friday, especially the further north and west you go,” said NWS chief forecaster Robert Frye.
On Friday, temperatures in the New Orleans area are expected to drop to 26 degrees, well below freezing, with a low of 36. The Christmas Eve low will be this weekend at 24 degrees, with a low of 38.
Christmas Day will start out below freezing again, with a low of 28, but will warm into the 40s. That warming trend will continue through the work week, with temperatures reaching the 50s by Tuesday, though overnight lows will still be in the 20s.
This arctic blast will bring winds of up to 45 mph. These winds will begin to pick up speed Thursday night and become stronger through Friday. Winds will begin to ease Saturday, with gusts up to 15 mph.
“You’ll know when [cold] front shocks because it’s going to be a very sudden change in wind speed and direction,” Frye said. “Everybody has their holiday decorations. If you don’t provide them or bring them, they will disappear.”
Wind gusts will blow from the northwest, perpendicular to many Louisiana highways and byways, and will push vehicles. Forecasters warned people driving outside the city on Friday to take extra care and prepare for delays, with those in large vehicles such as buses, vans and semi-trailers at greatest risk.
For those staying in the city, the resulting wind chill will likely be in the teens or even single digits, forecasters said. People who are exposed to the wind for a long time can experience dangerously cold temperatures. Forecasters warned that homeless people will be particularly vulnerable to the wind chill if they don’t have a place to shelter.
This weekend could be Louisiana’s first blast of arctic air mass since February 3-5, 1996, when many places set records for the coldest day in recent history. However, no temperature records are expected to be broken.
This work is supported by a grant funded by the Walton Family Foundation and administered by the Association of Environmental Journalists.
Roshaun Higgins: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter: @row_yr_boat.