South Floridians will endure a wet and windy beginning to the weekend followed by some of the coldest temperatures of the winter on Sunday.
At least it won’t be the fearsome blizzard promising to sock in millions of people along the East Coast and snarl air travels for days. Some flights in and out of South Florida airports were already being canceled Friday morning.
As of noon Friday, Miami International Airport had 47 flight cancellations and 19 delays. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport had 64 cancellations and 60 delays, officials said.
“It’s possible there will be more,” said Allan Siegel, spokseman for Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. “It’s only noon and the storm hasn’t hit yet.”
Cities affected include Washington, D.C., Atlanta, New York, Cincinnati, Columbus, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Orlando, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Nashville, Greensboro, NC, and Norfolk.
The massive cold front sweeping across South Florida brought high winds and widespread, sometimes heavy rain that will add to rush hour frustrations at both ends of the day. The National Weather Service’s Miami office said the rains will slack off Saturday but it will remain blustery on Saturday with gusts as high as 30 mph. Miami and Fort Lauderdale should then dip into the mid-40s by early Sunday morning.
The blizzard menacing the Eastern United States could rank near the top 10 to ever hit the region, according to the National Weather Service.
Snowfall as heavy as 1 to 3 inches an hour could continue for 24 hours or more in the area, said meteorologist Paul Kocin with the service’s Weather Prediction Center. That puts estimates at more than 2 feet for Washington, a foot to 18 inches for Philadelphia and 8 inches to a foot in New York.
The snowfall, expected to continue from late Friday into Sunday, could easily cause more than $1 billion in damage and paralyze the Eastern third of the nation, weather service director Louis Uccellini said.
Some ripple effects on travelers were already being felt in South Florida. At Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, most flights remained on schedule early Friday but several airlines canceled flights in and out of North Carolina airports. Select flights to a few other cities from Washington, D.C., to New York also had been canceled. Travelers accross the country could face delays.
In South Florida, the main weather concerns were powerful winds, rough seas and lightning strikes as the system passes across the peninsula.
Some thunderstorms could drop large amounts of rain as well. The South Florida Water Management District, which fought to control heavy flooding in South Miami-Dade that forced Zoo Miami to shut down for five days in December, said it was keeping an eye on rainfall early Friday. In a tweet, the agency said it would adjust pumping and canal levels as needed.
Over the last month, water in Lake Okeechobee has also climbed while the U.S. Corps of Engineers has struggled to maintain safe levels in what would typically be the region's dry season.
"Frequent rain events have soaked areas south of the lake, limiting our ability to move water south. We are getting closer to a point where we will have to increase flows east and west to maintain storage capacity in the lake," the agency's Operations Chief, Jim Jeffords, said Thursday.
Herald Staff Writers Monique O. Madan, Jenny Staletovich and Alex Harris contributed to this story, which included information from The Associated Press.