Winter storm wreaks havoc

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From staff reports.

After a day during which temperatures remained at or around the freezing mark, area residents awoke Saturday to sunny skies and warming temperatures.

Residents woke up Friday morning to closed schools, closed businesses and closed roadways as temperatures plummeted in the low 20s and high teens Thursday, creating treacherous driving conditions.

Ice quickly formed on roads, causing dozens of crashes and prompting the closure of roads throughout Acadia Parish, especially north of Interstate 10.

Officials were asking morning drivers to stay home if possible.

Many couldn’t

At 9:30 a.m., Acadia Parish Sheriff Wayne Melancon’s office reported “in excess of 25 accidents” in the parish and urged residents to “please stay indoors.”

Before 11 a.m. Friday, barricades were at a premium as local and state officials closed off overpasses, bridges and large sections of roadways across Acadiana due to ice.

The winter storm that hit the area Thursday night caused ice to form on roadways, especially bridges and overpasses, closing Interstate 10 and setting the scenes for numerous traffic wrecks.

Temperatures hovered around the freezing mark or below throughout the day. Late Friday, portions of I-10 – east and west – remained closed from Baton Rouge to the Texas line. State Trooper spokesman Stephen Hammons said Troop I had responded to around 200 calls for motorist assistance on Friday, including everything from traffic wrecks to stranded motorists. Between 4 and 9 a.m., Troopers answered about 120 calls, Hammons said.

And those numbers don’t include the countless local and parish calls handled by municipal police and sheriff’s deputies. Police scanners crackled throughout the day and into the night as officials continued to answer calls and report on icy conditions.

Donovan Landreneau of the National Weather Service in Lake Charles, said 2 to 3 inches of snow accumulated Friday in areas north of I-10, from Fort Polk to Alexandria, with freezing rain and ice all along the I-10 corridor across Acadiana.

“Anything north of Opelousas” got snow, he said.

At least one crash Friday morning, on I-10 near Rayne, involved “critical injuries.” As of noon Friday, state police said the icy road conditions had been a factor in two south Louisiana highway traffic deaths.

One happened shortly after 1 a.m. in the Lake Charles area when a driver lost control of a vehicle on an I-10 overpass. That driver was killed when the car was struck by another vehicle.

Hours later, in Jefferson Davis Parish, a woman lost control of her vehicle on an I-10 overpass. She was killed when an 18-wheeler struck her vehicle.

Gov. Bobby Jindal Friday morning declared a state of emergency as a result of the extreme cold weather conditions. On Wednesday evening, he had issued a state of emergency related to the transportation and delivery of propane and heating fuel products due to extreme cold weather.

The emergency declaration states, “State offices have been closed in thirty-eight parishes and schools in thirty-seven parishes have been closed due to the hazards posed by this extreme winter weather, and these winter weather conditions threaten the lives and property of the citizens of the State of Louisiana.”

Temperatures finally rose above the freezing mark at about 10 a.m. Saturday and climbed to about 57 degrees by mid-afternoon before dropping back into the upper 30s overnight.

Today, forecasters are predicting a high of 60 with a low tonight of around 50. 

But NWS forecasters are calling for another chance of wintry precipitation again next week, calling for a slight chance of rain and sleet Monday night and a “slight chance” of snow Tuesday night, when temperatures are expected to dip back into the lower 20s.

A slight warming trend begins Wednesday with a high of 46, falling to 30 overnight. Clouds are expected to begin moving in on Thursday with temperatures are expected to warm to the 60s during the day and the 50s at night by the weekend.