Floridians prepare for possibly record low temps


Published: Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 6:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 6:30 p.m.

PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Tara McCourry and Stephen McFarren walked hand in hand along a picturesque Florida beach Tuesday. The young couple watched pelicans, admired seashells and adjusted their hats and gloves as they buffered themselves against the 27-degree wind chill.

The vacationing college students from Ohio were among the few people outside at noon on a beach normally bustling with joggers, fisherman and surfers.

"This is my first time in Florida and Florida is not supposed to be cold like this," McCourry said.

She was right.

Temperatures in the Panhandle — Florida's coldest region — normally range from lows in the low 40s to highs in low 60s this time of year, said Kirk Caceres, a meteorologist with National Weather Service in Mobile. Pensacola's highs during the first week of January 2009 were in the 70s.

This year, forecasters are talking about a light dusting of snow in the Panhandle on Thursday afternoon.

"We're talking a trace, nothing to get too excited about," Caceres cautioned. "The best chances will be in Panhandle from Pensacola to Tallahassee."

The last time the Panhandle had a trace of snow was 2002 and the last time Florida had snow accumulation was on Jan. 31, 1977, when 1.5 inches fell in parts of the Panhandle. The state's record snowfall was 3 inches in February of 1895, Caceres said.

In normally balmy Miami, 535 miles southeast of Pensacola, overnight lows were in the mid 30s Tuesday morning and daytime highs only in the 50s.

Miami Meteorologist Dan Dixon said Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach were expected to approach or set record-low overnight temperatures Wednesday morning.

Fans needed to bundle up for an 8 p.m. kickoff as the No. 10 Iowa Hawkeyes faced No. 9 Georgia Tech in Miami's outdoor Orange Bowl.

Counties statewide opened emergency cold-weather shelters for the homeless.

Zoo workers in West Palm Beach brought more than 50 exotic birds indoors, put monkeys in heated barns and placed heat lamps throughout the zoo.

Throughout central and south Florida, farmers continued trying to salvage millions of dollars worth of citrus and vegetable crops, spraying them in protective layers of ice and covering them in plastic.

Forecasters said the cold spell will last through the weekend, likely breaking records for continuous cold temperatures in many parts of the state.

The bitter weather didn't stop tourist Kathy Yancey from taking her shoes off and walking barefoot along Pensacola Beach Tuesday afternoon. Yancey even dipped her toes in the water, despite a noon temperature of 39 degrees with the 27-degree wind chill.

"This is the first time in years I've been to the beach and it's really beautiful. I don't know when I'll get to do this again," said Yancey, who is from Gadsden in northern Alabama.

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