PINELLAS COUNTY – Winter’s first breath hit the county hard over the weekend, bringing wind gusts of up to 60 mph Sunday and leaving 38,000 Progress Energy customers in the area without power for several hours.
A cold front carrying sustained winds of 40 to 50 mph for two hours caused power outages beginning at about 4:30 a.m. Sunday. The utility company restored power throughout the morning and into the afternoon.
“It (the storm) was quite a surprise,” said Aaron Perlut, Progress spokesman.
Perlut said since many employees were on vacation, the company brought in crews from Central Florida to handle the outages. Most of the power outages, he said, were “tree-related,” such as limbs being blown into utility lines. The company has more than 515,000 customers in Pinellas County.
The winter season began officially on Tuesday, Dec. 21, and residents have already felt the chill of temperatures reaching down as low as 41 degrees.
The huge winter storm that marched across the nation last week brought a white Christmas to many locations. Although no snow was recorded in this state, the National Weather Service reported cold temperatures in the 40s and strong winds with gusts of 60 mph on the day after Christmas. Daytime highs climbed only into the 50s throughout the holiday weekend with nighttime temperatures in the 40s.
The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, better known as NOAA, is predicting that winter temperatures in Florida will be cooler than usual this year. NOAA published a report on its Web site, www.noaa.gov, on Nov. 18, with projections for the winter season. It states that the forecast is based on the affect of a weak El Nino.
“El Nino wintertime impacts vary over the United States depending on the strength of the event,” Wayne Higgins, principal scientist at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center states in the report.
NOAA is projecting warmer-than-average conditions in the West, and cooler and wetter-than-average conditions in portions of the South and Southeast.
“This is consistent with a typical El Nino pattern and has been factored into NOAA’s Winter Outlook,” Higgins said.
Snowbirds flock to the sunshine state each winter to escape bitterly cold temperatures and the snow and ice that much of the United States experiences from November through early March.
But historically, Florida has experienced a few bouts of true winter weather. December temperatures have been recorded as low as 22 degrees in St. Petersburg, according to a 1962 report from the National Weather Service. The second lowest temperature recorded from that same location was 27 in 1985.
National Weather Service records from Ruskin from the last 56 years show that temperatures have reached 32 degrees or below 11 times during the month of December and 16 times in January. Three below freezing temperature days were reported for that same time period in February.
Records show low temperatures around the Christmas holiday occurring in 1983 with lows on Christmas Day of 24 degrees. Also, in 1989 the Christmas Day low reported at 30 degrees.
Snow was reported in Florida as far south as Miami on Jan. 19, 1977, according to a published report by Dr. Keith C. Heidorn, also known as the Weather Doctor in January 2002. National Weather Service reports showed that Tampa recorded the most snow of any location on Jan. 18, 1977 of 0.2 inches. The temperature recorded in St. Petersburg on Jan. 19, 1977 was 32 degrees and the temperature on Jan. 20 was 30. Heidorn’s article said that numerous auto accidents were reported from the ice on the roads, and the citrus industry was devastated, causing President Jimmy Carter to declare 35 Florida counties disaster areas.
Heidorn’s report also states that prior to 1977, snow had been reported in 1899 as far south as a line from Fort Myers on the state’s west coast to Fort Pierce on the east coast.
The National Weather Service’s long-range forecast shows temperatures through the end of the year in the normal range with highs in the mid-70s and lows in the 50s. New Year’s Day is predicted to be sunny with a high of 77 degrees.