Sustained winds as strong as a tropical storm are expected in New Orleans Wednesday ahead of a line of thunderstorms.
The severe weather threat has prompted a tornado watch in southeast Louisiana, including New Orleans and the north shore, until 9 p.m. A watch means conditions are favorable for a tornado but one has not been spotted in the area. A warning is issued when one is spotted.
The main squall line is moving quickly eastward across Louisiana. It could get to Baton Rouge as early as 4 p.m. and then New Orleans and the north shore as early as 6 p.m., forecasters said.
Wind speeds are expected to get stronger as the day progresses, according to Matthew Duplantis at the National Weather Service in Slidell.
Gusts up to 55 mph are possible before the storm arrives, making driving conditions difficult on bridges and elevated roads. Wind restrictions are in effect on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway.
The strong winds are capable of knocking out power, officials warned. About 500 Entergy customers were without power in Orleans Parish as of 3 p.m., and 26,000 were without power statewide.
Streetcars, the Algiers ferry and some schools and government buildings in the metro area are altering their schedules due to the severe weather threat.
Here’s what to know about the severe weather threat as of 2:25 p.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service in Slidell.
The approaching squall line has the potential to bring severe thunderstorms and wind gusts up to 70 mph, which would be nearly as strong as a Category 1 hurricane. Tornadoes are possible, along with rain and hail.
Once the squall line arrives, it should take about 30 minutes to pass your home, forecasters said. Lingering rain is possible after the severe weather threat ends.
The storm system comes a week after two tornadoes touched down in Arabi and the north shore, killing a man, injuring about a dozen others and significantly damaging roughly 150 homes.
Severe weather threats
The highest risk for significant severe weather is along and north of the Interstate 10-Interstate 12 corridor, including Baton Rouge, Hammond and part of the north shore. Those areas have a moderate risk, which is a threat level of 4 out of 5.
Slidell, New Orleans and the south shore are at risk for severe weather, but the threat level is lower – 3 out of 5, forecasters said Wednesday morning.
Here are the current threats for southeast Louisiana:
- Sustained winds of 35 to 45 mph with gusts up to 55 mph for both sides of the lake
- Gusts of 70 mph are possible in a severe thunderstorm
- Tornadoes will be possible, and a few could be strong (EF2+) and/or have a long track
- Trees and power lines could be damaged and lead to power outages
- Rainfall of 1 to 1.5 inches with locally higher amounts possible.
- Flash flooding possible in low-lying areas and areas of poor drainage
- Coastal flooding is possible through 1 a.m. for areas outside of levee protection, and an advisory is in effect.
See live updates from the National Weather Service and meteorologists about Wednesday’s threats. (Can’t see the updates? Click here.)
The storm system will quickly be moving east Wednesday, according to Lauren Nash, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Slidell.
Forecasters have released timeframes for when the squall line and the associated severe thunderstorms are expected to arrive.
Here’s the current timing from the National Weather Service:
Baton Rouge: 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
New Orleans, Hammond, Covington: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Slidell, Lafitte: 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Boothville: 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.
School, agency closures
Several public school districts in metro New Orleans have canceled afterschool activities, but so far, classes will happen as usual.
The earliest the severe weather is to arrive is 6 p.m., which is after most schools dismiss students.
Several government agencies, including Jefferson and Orleans parish libraries and municipal and traffic courts, are closing early.
See the rolling list of schedule changes.
Tornado watch until 9 p.m.
A tornado watch has been issued until 9 p.m. for southeast Louisiana, including metro New Orleans.
A watch means a tornado is possible. A warning is issued when a tornado has been spotted in person or by radar.
Watches are usually issued for a large geographical area for a longer period of time, such as several hours.
Warnings are usually issued for a small geographical area for a short period of time, such as 30 minutes to an hour.
High wind warning until 9 p.m.
Powerful winds are expected Wednesday ahead of the storms.
The winds have the potential to knock out powerlines and damage trees before the severe storms arrive, forecasters said.
Travel will be difficult, especially for high-profile vehicles. Use extra caution when driving, especially on bridges and elevated roads.
People should avoid being outside in forested areas and around trees and branches, forecasters said.
A high wind warning is in effect from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. for most of southeast Louisiana, including metro New Orleans and the north shore. Sustained winds of 35 to 45 mph are expected with gusts up to 55 mph possible.
On the south shore, a wind advisory is in effect overnight from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday.
Streetcars, ferries, buses not running
Streetcar service has been suspended in New Orleans because of the severe weather threat, according to the Regional Transit Authority.
The Algiers and Chalmette ferries have stopped running as well.
Buses are running instead of streetcars but on a reduced schedule. Riders should expect delays, officials said.
In Jefferson Parish, bus service across the Crescent City Connection and the Huey P. Long Bridge ended for the day at 2:30 p.m. Paratransit will suspend service at 5:30 p.m., officials said.
Wind restrictions are in effect on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway as of 11:30 a.m.
Motorcycles, RVs and glass trucks are not allowed on the bridge due to crosswinds, Causeway police said.
The bridge is open in both directions for other drivers, though.
Around 4,500 Entergy customers were without power in metro New Orleans as of 3:15 p.m. Wednesday.
The largest outages are in River Ridge. Here’s the rundown of outages as of 3:15 p.m.:
- Jefferson: 1,958
- Orleans: 497
- St. Charles: 1,584
- St. Bernard: 295
- St. John: 190
Statewide, about 26,656 Entergy customers were without power as of 3:15 p.m. The largest outage was in East Baton Rouge parish.
Check the current power status on Entergy’s website.
Two of Sewerage & Water Board’s major drainage pumps are not working. The remaining 97 are available for service Wednesday, officials said. Check the city’s current drainage status here.
The drainage pumps that are not working are:
- Pump 6 at Metairie Road: 1 of 15 drainage pumps out
- Pump 11 at Lower Coast Algiers: 1 of 4 drainage pumps out
- Turbine 4
- Turbine 5
- Turbine 6
There are things you can do now to prepare before the storms arrive.
FURNITURE: Secure loose outdoor objects and bring in patio furniture.
PHONE: Charge your phone and make sure it is unmuted. Tornado warnings will be pushed to your phone when the threat is imminent. Turn on weather emergency alerts.
FLASHLIGHT: Test your flashlight and keep it in an easy accessible place. If you are sleeping as the storm moves through, put the flashlight next to your bed. Keep shoes near your bed as well.
SAFE PLACE: Prepare a safe place to go beforehand. Make sure everyone in your household knows where to go. Have a clear path to your safe place in case you are navigating in the dark.
Stay away from windows and go to an interior room on the lowest floor.
If you live in a mobile home, get to a safe place.
Track the storms as they move through southeast Louisiana. Good news – Thursday and Friday are expected to be sunny in New Orleans, with highs in the mid-70s.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism