South Florida, brace yourselves for the coldest spell of the season

South Florida braces for its first cold front of 2018

Forecasters expect the temperature to dip into the low 40s and high 30s by Thursday as a cold front moves through South Florida.
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Forecasters expect the temperature to dip into the low 40s and high 30s by Thursday as a cold front moves through South Florida.

The state of Florida is facing a significant chill starting Wednesday morning and lasting through the weekend, the National Weather Service warns. Already parts of the Panhandle have seen ice form from people’s sprinklers.

Will it be of the “Let it snow/let it snow/let it snow” variety? Not in South Florida, although temperatures could still dip into the upper 30s in parts of Miami-Dade and Broward, with frost possible in the Redland agricultural region in south Miami-Dade on Friday morning.

In northern Florida, the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning, which sounds like something folks in New York and New Jersey are more accustomed to hearing.

While no one will likely find enough material for even a junior Frosty the Snowman, think possible snow flurries in Orlando and parts north, along with ice and freezing rain. In fact, three Central Florida theme-park attractions will be closed due to the cold weather, NBC 6 reported. Universal’s Volcano Bay will be closed through Friday, while Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and SeaWorld’s Aquatica will be closed through at least Thursday, the station reported..

In the far northern reaches of the state — Jacksonville on the coast and Tallahassee in the Panhandle — the forecast calls for particularly chilly weather with temperatures possible in the upper 20s and with wind chills that will make it feel like the teens.

“That’ll make your lizards drop from trees over there,” said meteorologist Scott Cordero of the Jacksonville office of the National Weather Service.

Iguanas, because they are cold-blooded, can fall out of trees when the temperature gets near freezing or below.

Cordero also says that parts of nearby Georgia in interior cities like Homerville and Clinch County could see two to four inches of snow and some half-foot amounts.

Miami-Dade and Broward are not expecting anything like that in the way of snow this far south, said National Weather Service meteorologist Steven Ippoliti in the Miami office. But temperatures could go as low as 40 degrees or the upper 30s into Friday, with a wind chill factor making it feel like the 30s both Thursday and Friday morning.

snow jan 19, 1977
Joan Thompson of South Miami posed for her husband, Ferris, outside their home on Jan. 20, 1977, the day after light snow fell in the city. The couple got up early then hoping there would be a repeat of the Jan. 19, 1977 snow but it didn’t happen. The headline on the Jan. 1977 Miami Herald read “The day it snowed in Miami.” That won’t likely happen with the latest cold front through Jan. 6, 2018. Ferris Thompson Miami Herald File

“We’ve been pretty warm so any time the temperatures drop down suddenly it feels a lot colder than it is because we’re not acclimated to it,” Ippoliti said. “It’s going to be going down to the 40s for quite a few hours Thursday to Friday morning so you will feel chilly.”

Elsewhere, temperatures could drop into the 30s by Lake Okeechobee, Glades and Hendry counties and even interior Palm Beach County could see mid to upper 30s in interior areas. The National Weather Service said Palm Beach could see some frost, especially in sheltered areas Thursday morning.

Friday morning, the wind is expected to be near calm, which would allow for colder temperatures around 30 degrees in parts of Palm Beach, especially south of Lake Okeechobee.

The winter weather advisory was issued by the National Weather Service because periods of freezing rain could cause dangerous traffic conditions as you head north in Florida.

“The real concern of ours is that when we briefly warm up above freezing in the afternoon whatever happens with sleet or snow is it will melt,” Cordero said. “And when the sun goes down, even though the skies are clear, bridges and passages can refreeze with any moisture on the road and cause black ice. That’s a huge driving hazard. You can’t see that at night.”

While videos surfaced on social media showing what people thought were snow flurries, meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Melbourne spent much of Tuesday debunking that rumor. With temperatures in the 50s, it simply wasn’t cold enough for snow, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

But the Florida Panhandle saw snow last month, with a reported two inches in Escambia County, in early December during the last major cold front. Snow flurries dusted Destin and Miramar Beach in that chill.

South Florida hasn’t seen snow since Jan. 19, 1977, when the National Weather Service in Coral Gables had to issue a prediction that early morning that tacked on the unbelievable word “snow” to the meteorologist’s sentence: “Cold with rain showers and the possibility of snow.”

Nearly 41 years ago, snowflakes briefly dusted palm trees, windshields and shivering — and surprised — people from Miami to West Palm Beach. The brief winter wonderland was the only South Florida snowfall on record in the 20th century.

This latest big chill, Florida-style, will cover the state through the weekend. Highs are only expected in the low 60s Friday in the Miami area. Saturday could still be chilly in the upper 40s to 50 degrees until the warming trend begins Saturday afternoon, when highs could approach 70. Sunday morning lows will be in the 50s, Ippoliti predicts.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen

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