Rough, possibly freezing weather expected to rock area Wednesday
Published: Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 10:39 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 10:40 p.m.
Early Thanksgiving travelers in Florida battled strong winds and rain Tuesday as a brief spate of stormy warm weather washed in from the south, to be followed by a brawny cold front from the north in time for Thursday.
Strong winds and severe thunderstorms hit the region Tuesday as dangerous weather — including the possibility of an isolated tornado — came through.
In fact, tornado watches were posted for 14 counties in the eastern Panhandle. Emergency officials say a tornado touched down briefly in Wewahitchka in Gulf County on Tuesday morning, causing minor property damage.
Closer to home, the weather appeared to have little impact on Interstate 75 travelers on a pre-Thanksgiving journey, said Sgt. Tracy Pace of Florida Highway Patrol Troop B headquartered in Lake City, although rain drenched Gainesville starting just after nightfall Tuesday and forecasters warned some places across North Central Florida could see freezing weather overnight Wednesday.
Pace said more troopers will be on the road Wednesday as traffic is expected to get heavy.
"As far as crashes, it's been normal. Right now, everything appears to be running smoothly," Pace said late Tuesday afternoon. "We are going to have additional units out tomorrow. We suspend office procedures during the holiday period. Everybody who works in the office will be out on the road."
Due to the high winds and rain on Tuesday, there was a chance of severe weather in the afternoon and late evening, said Kate Guillet, a meteorological intern with the National Weather Service in Jacksonville.
An advisory for sustained winds of 25 mph is in effect until noon Wednesday, according to the agency.
The winds have the potential to topple water-logged trees, down power lines and blow weakened roofs off houses.
"There's a large a storm moving through the area," she said. "The chance of an isolated tornado can't be ruled out."
Gainesville Regional Airport spokeswoman Laura Aguiar said Tuesday afternoon that no flights in or out of Gainesville had been impacted by the weather, which is affecting the Midwest and much of the eastern seaboard.
Aguiar added that flights could still be affected if bad weather continues in areas with hub airports with flights to and from Gainesville.
Rain chances will drop Wednesday as a cold front moves in. Highs of around 60 degrees will drop to as low as 28 degrees overnight, the season's first flirt with frost and freezing weather.
Thanksgiving Day is expected to be sunny with a high near 58 and a low of 36, according to the NWS.
Mark Jenkins, spokesman for AAA Auto Club South, said 2.23 million people are expected to be traveling 50 miles or more in Florida between now and Sunday — about two million of them in cars.
That is a drop from last year by about 600,000 travelers, Jenkins said.
Continuing economic uncertainty and a rise in gas prices could be factors.
"According to our survey, consumer confidence is down right now. It makes people a little more cautious," Jenkins said. "People could be not traveling as far."
Florida's average gas price of $3.41 per gallon jumped 18 cents from a week ago.
In Gainesville, the average price of a gallon of regular on Monday was $3.43, up from last Monday's average of $3.31, according to the website GasBuddy.com.