WEATHER

South Florida braces for cold weather, while snow forces massive shutdowns around the country

 

Tuesday morning was expected to be a cold one for South Florida, but it’s nothing compared to other parts of the country blanketed by heavy snow.

While South Florida braces for a little taste of winter, bad weather continued to wreak havoc across the country Monday, delaying flights, shutting down businesses and keeping many people indoors.

And moves by some airlines made it clear that travel frustrations would drag out into Tuesday.

JetBlue Airways said it planned to suspend flights at New York and Boston airports late Monday, with plans to resume them gradually on Tuesday. The airline, which has a large presence in Fort Lauderdale, said halting its flights into New York area and Boston would allow time to melt ice from its planes, position flight crews and take other steps to recover from recent storms.

Temperatures below zero in the U.S. Midwest were making it difficult for airlines to fuel planes and posing exposure hazards for ramp employees. Chicago O’Hare was hit especially hard, with 1,600 canceled flights.

Harsh winter conditions left travelers stranded at both Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

As of about 4:30 p.m., 28 cancellations were reported at MIA — 16 arrivals and 12 departures.

Passengers stranded at the airport filled the restaurants, stores and chairs, many hoping for better luck on their rescheduled flights.

Student Andre Concepcion, 25, was stuck at MIA after his 3 p.m. flight to Chicago, the first hop of a many-legged trip, was canceled. He was heading to Michigan from the Dominican Republic.

“I got mad, but what are you going to do,” said Concepcion, who rescheduled his flight to Tuesday morning.

For Maggie McCallie, 31, a canceled flight to St. Louis meant “a few extra days of warm weather.”

“It’s an extended vacation,” said McCallie, who was in South Florida on a cruise. She wasn’t able to get a new flight booked before Thursday.

Fort Lauderdale airport officials reported 48 cancellations by the end of the day and 103 delays.

Due to air complications, some cruise lines also spent the weekend helping guests who couldn't get to their ships.

Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises had to help more than 350 guests scheduled to sail on Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises this weekend. If they missed the boat at the original port, guests had to get to the next stop on the itinerary to catch up with the sailing.

Agents always advise travelers to arrive a day or two early for a cruise and to buy travel insurance, especially in winter, said Michelle Fee, CEO of home-based travel agent network Cruise Planners-American Express Travel.

"There's no doubt there have been travelers that obviously had difficulty getting to their embarkation port," she said.

Meanwhile, around South Florida people spent Monday biking, laying out on the beach and enjoying the sun before the sweaters started coming out after dusk.

“We have had such a mild winter so far, it is going to feel really cold out there,” said Meteorologist Steven Ippoliti of the National Weather Service in Miami.

Miami-Dade could see temperatures as low as the mid-40s Monday night. Some areas out to the west could see temperatures dip to the low 40s, and the wind chill could make it feel like it was in the high 30s, Ippoliti said.

Stephane Camire sat a beach chair in Hollywood relaxing in a bathing suit. At home in Montreal, he said he’d be wearing a coat and boots.

“This is perfect,” said Camire, who is on vacation through Jan. 9. “It’s freezing at home.”

Pet owners were advised to take animals inside to protect them from the cold.

Because of the predictions, homeless shelters prepared to open in Miami-Dade and Broward Monday night to provide hot meals and shelter.

“Whoever needs a place to stay can come on in,” said Sally Gress, development director for the Salvation Army of Broward County, though the agency could only accept up to 100 people. Mats and blankets could be placed in community rooms and hallways, she said.

At the Miami Rescue Mission’s three campuses, workers prepared Monday to provide food, blankets and warm clothes.

Operations manager James Whitworth, who oversees the Hollywood Outreach Center, urged people to seek shelter.

“Don’t risk it,” he said. “It will get really cold out there, especially if you are not dressed for it.”

Farmers kept a close eye on the forecast Monday afternoon but remained confident that the cold front would have minimal effect on their crops.

"This is not one of those terrible apocalyptic events coming to South Dade agriculture," said John Alger, president of Alger Farms. "Right now, we are not looking at any trouble."

A forecast of high winds was a good thing, Alger said.

"Wind is your friend. Wind is the enemy of frost."

A freeze warning was issued for the northern half of the state and extended as far south as Hernando, Lake, Sumter and Volusia counties. Forecasters predicted that some records might be broken in northern Florida.

Lucky for South Florida, the blast of cold air isn’t expected to last long. By Tuesday night, temperatures are expected to be back up to the mid- to upper-50s.

The rest of the country also is in for a break from the back-to-back blows of snow, freezing rain and frigid temperatures.

"We've had to deal with plenty of snow, plenty of cold and plenty of storms," said Bernie Rayno, expert senior meteorologist for Accuweather.com. "So I think we’re going to have a relaxation of the pattern a little bit."

Still, Rayno warned that airports will likely continue to see delays for the next 24 hours, especially due to gusty winds across the Northeast.

"I think with all the flights that were canceled in the last 24 hours, it's going to take a little time for the airports to get back on track," he said. "The fact you're going to have wind, it'll slow that recovery period down a little bit."

This report was supplemented with information from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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