Arctic blast heads this way

Published: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 12, 2009 at 10:04 p.m.

It was nice while it lasted. A month of above-average warmth is about to give way to the season's coldest weather to officially welcome winter to Florida.

An arctic blast promises four consecutive mornings of freezing temperatures beginning Thursday, causing area homeless agencies to scramble for resources to help those in need.

And with the number of homeless men, women and children on the rise, thanks to a struggling economy, the need for supplies will hit an all-time high, officials believe.

St. Francis House, for example, continues to gear up for the cold blast that promises lows in the lower-20s on Friday and Saturday mornings.

Officials there say they are in dire need of warm clothes, socks, gloves and blankets.

St. Francis House officials said anytime the temperature drops to 45 degrees they begin seeing an increase in the number of homeless seeking shelter at their Main Street facility.

St. Francis House is the primary homeless support agency in Alachua County. The economy has led many more people to their doorstep.

Even before the cold weather hit, they have been getting twice as many people for lunch than they did this time last year.

Kent Vann, the agency's executive director, said at this time last year they fed 130, and today the number has grown to 230. He said the struggling economy is making their job more difficult.

"We're all certainly impacted," he said.

Jason Hess, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Jacksonville, said the Gainesville area will begin feeling near-freezing temperatures on Wednesday morning when lows hit the mid-30s.

And then the first of two blasts will settle in on Thursday morning when the low is expected to be in the upper-20s. Hess said by Thursday afternoon a second shot of cold will hit, sending the mercury dropping. The low temperature in Gainesville is expected to be 23 degrees on Friday and 21 degrees on Saturday.

There is a chance the temperatures could be colder both mornings. National Weather Service officials said that the temperatures could vary depending on what occurs between now and the weekend.

Hess said Friday, however, may seem colder because of the front that will be pushing through with wind speeds in excess of 15 mph.

"The wind chill could be about 21 (degrees) on Friday," said Hess, adding the wind chill could be even lower north of Gainesville.

Highs for Wednesday through Saturday may never reach 60 degrees.

Hess said a high over Canada is pulling cold arctic air from the north pole, which is now in complete darkness around the clock. He said the chilling cold will pass over the snow-packed Midwest.

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