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Tropical systems play ‘Marco Polo’

[Editor’s Note: This piece was prepared on Monday ahead of L’OBSERVATEUR’s regular print deadline for the safety of staff and contract workers who help deliver the newspaper. Please check lobservateur.com or L’OBSERVATEUR’s Facebook page for updated information concerning Hurricane Laura.]

LAPLACE — A global pandemic and waves of social unrest are not the only surprises 2020 had up its sleeve. Late last week, residents of St. John the Baptist Parish and South Louisiana were alerted to two tropical systems moving in quick succession into the Gulf of Mexico with the potential to deliver a fierce one-two strike.

The National Hurricane Center downgraded Marco from a category one hurricane to a tropical storm Sunday night as wind shear mangled and weakened the storm. Had Marco held onto higher sustained winds and had Laura moved a little faster past Cuba, 2020 could have made history with the first two hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico at the same time.

However, having two tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico is also historic. The last time two named storms existed in the Gulf at the same time was in June 1959. According to a Monthly Weather Review published by the Weather Bureau Office in Miami, Florida, Tropical Storm Beulah co-existed in the Gulf with a rapidly formed category one storm known only as “Hurricane Three” before it made landfall in Florida. Beulah, meanwhile, brought minimal impacts to Texas and Mexico.

The last instance of twin Gulf of Mexico systems prior to 1959 was in 1933, when a category three storm struck Texas as a tropical storm hit Florida.

As of 7 a.m. Monday, St. John Parish was no longer under a hurricane and storm surge watch for Tropical Storm Marco. However, the area remained under a tropical storm warning and a coastal flood advisory with risks of gusty wind, dangerous storm surge and heavy rainfall.

With most of the rainfall tracking to the east of Marco, minimal impacts were felt in LaPlace as of the time of this writing on Monday. Attention was shifting to Tropical Storm Laura, which had much more potential for intensification early this week with high temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and an exceptional lack of wind shear.

As of press time, Laura was predicted to strike Central Louisiana as a category two with sustained winds of 110 miles per hour.

Parish President Jaclyn Hotard signed an Emergency Declaration in advance of Tropical Storm Marco and Tropical Storm Laura to allow parish officials to take precautionary measures.

A voluntary evacuation was issued for Pleasure Bend and areas north of I-10 in LaPlace, including Frenier, Peavine and Manchac in advance of Tropical Storm Marco and Tropical Storm Laura.

Self-serve sandbag locations opened Saturday afternoon at the St. John Community Center, Railroad Avenue Fire Station, Ezekiel Jackson Park, Juan Anthony Joseph Memorial Park, Wallace Fire Station and the Pleasure Bend Fire Station. Pre-filled sandbags for the elderly were available at 425 Captain G. Bourgeois in LaPlace. All sites closed at 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 23.

All government buildings, the St. John Courthouse and parish libraries closed from Monday, Aug. 24 through Thursday, Aug. 27.
“We are taking all necessary precautions in advance of the unpredictable situation of two hurricanes possibly impacting St. John Parish within days of each other,” said Parish President Jaclyn Hotard. “Crews have been working all weekend installing temporary generators, clearing catch basins and facilitating sandbag sites.”

All Catholic schools in St. John the Baptist Parish were closed early this week, along with virtual classes for St. John Parish Public School students. Public school students have not yet returned to in-person learning. However, the School Board Office and all school buildings closed this week, resulting in scheduled orientations being postponed.

Residents can stay in touch with St. John Parish developments by texting SJPWEATHER to 888-777, through the Parish website at sjbparish.com or the Government Access Channel and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Please check lobservateur.com for more information.