Cold will linger into weekend

Published: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 3:42 p.m.

Want warmer weather? Keep heading south, maybe to the Caribbean.

Temperatures bottomed out in the 20s in North Florida early Monday with Gainesville hitting a low of 26 degrees and Ocala 27 degrees.

Residents and snowbirds who were hoping to escape the frozen North should expect more of the same over the next several days. A second arctic air mass is expected to move into the state this week after a slight warm-up with highs in the 50s and lows still at or near freezing Thursday, according to forecasts.

That air mass should keep things cold at least through the weekend, with lows in the area predicted in the low 20s and highs in the mid to upper 40s.

Parts of south Georgia could see snow flurries later this week when a storm system pushes south Thursday, forecasts predicted.

The same hazardous weather advisory mentioning flurries covers North Florida, although current forecasts say snow isn't likely here.

Even South Florida might not be far enough south for some seeking warmth in the Sunshine State. Miami and the Keys have projected high temperatures no greater than the 60s this week.

Thursday might be the one day in which forecasts will vary.

Highs will be near 60 with a low of 32 degrees. If the area hits that low, it should break the record of nine days for the most consecutive days of freezing temperatures after another cold air mass pushes south.

The chance of rain also will increase to 40 percent Thursday with rain ahead of the other cold front. It's this weather pattern that could cause a wintry mix in portions of South Georgia.

Forecasts predict it will be too warm for any flurries in North Florida, Peterson said.

Lows in the 20s return Friday night and should persist into early next week, according to forecasts.

The cold weather will last at least through Tuesday, Peterson said.

The jet stream has dipped to the south this year, allowing freezing air from Canada to push farther south than normal, meteorologist Eric Zappe with the National Weather Service in Jacksonville said Monday.

The area's recent cold lows still haven't broken records so far, although the readings are at least 20 degrees below normal. And it's not just recent temperatures that are out of the ordinary.

It was 1960 when Gainesville last experienced nine consecutive days with temperatures of 32 degrees or less, according to the weather service.

With more than a week of freezing weather forecast, that record could be in jeopardy.

Garden Gate Nursery in Gainesville ran out of freeze cloth over the weekend as residents headed in to protect their plants.

The store was scheduled to have more early in the week, manager Judy Brown said.

Other cover that can be used, besides a regular cloth or plastic, are layers of hay or pine needles that can insulate small plants that are lower to the ground.

Tropical plants already should be indoors if possible, she said. Recent rain helped protect plants, but now residents need to remember to water plants around midday when it's warmer to prevent more damage from dry soil.

People have been turning up the heat at home to stay warm, Gainesville Regional Utilities reported. The peak usage Monday morning was 398 megawatts. Typical use on a winter day is 270 to 280, GRU spokeswoman Kim Jamerson said. The all-time winter peak occurred last year on Feb. 6 when usage hit 445 megawatts.

And medical and health personnel are warning people to be careful over the next few days.

Dr. Kevin Ferguson, associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Florida, said people should dress in layers of clothes to provide better insulation. Use hats and scarves to keep warmer longer, as well as gloves since fingers can radiate heat quickly. Ferguson, who works in the emergency department at Shands, also said warm fluids such as hot chocolate, not alcohol, are better to keep someone warm. Alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate, in which heat is lost faster.

Hypothermia can occur even at cool temperatures above 40 degrees, said Paul Myers with the Alachua County Health Department. Among those most susceptible are the elderly, babies and the homeless. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, memory loss and drowsiness. An infant's skin will become bright red and cold.

The Cold Night Shelter Program already is in place in Alachua County for homeless people. It allows the St. Francis House to house more people than its normal capacity during cold spells and provides vouchers in some cases for stays at an area hotel. The program is funded by the city and county and operated by the Alachua County Housing Authority, the St. Francis House and the Gainesville/Alachua County Office on Homeless, said that office's executive director, Jayne Moraski.

It likely will stay busy this week.

The cold spell definitely has impacted shopping patterns, store employees say.

"Space heaters are flying off the shelves," said Alden Kooken, store team leader at Target off Archer Road. And while employees are putting out swimsuits, the swimwear is positioned next to the coats, hats and gloves that currently are attracting customers.

If the weather remains frigid, Wayne Gray, who owns Gray's Tree Service in Gainesville, said he might see an increase in firewood sales. The wood that he sells comes from his property in Hawthorne or is salvaged from tree service jobs, he said.

At Publix stores, firewood and Duraflame logs are selling, spokesman Dwaine Stevens said. "We're keeping them in stock as much as we can," he said.

Lise Fisher is a Gainesville Sun staff writer.

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