Arctic air brings coldest night for Florida in five years

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A cold air mass, dropping high pressure and brisk winds from Canada, has enveloped the entire eastern seaboard of the United States. An unlikely casualty of the frigid temperatures is the state of Florida, which will drop below freezing across nearly the entire peninsula tonight. The widespread advisories and cold air mark the first time a prolonged hard freeze has hit a sizable section of Florida since the winter of 2002-2003.

The exceptionally chilly night immediately follows one of the coldest days in recent years, with temperatures struggling to make it out of the 40s (less than 10 degrees Celsius) as far south as Indian River County on the Atlantic coast. Some locations in the panhandle did not rise out of the 30s this afternoon (less than 5 degrees Celsius).

Tonight, a wide swath of Florida is forecast to encounter a hard freeze, in which temperatures drop below 26 degrees Fahrenheit (-3 degrees Celsius) for a period of eight hours or more. The hard freeze is expected for all of northern Florida and sections of interior central Florida, including the vital Florida Heartland, where the majority of Florida's orange and strawberry crops are grown. Additional freeze warnings have been issued for the Atlantic coast of Florida, from Volusia County to Martin County, covering the cities of Daytona Beach, Melbourne, Cocoa Beach, and Fort Pierce. For those counties, sub-freezing temperatures can be expected for a period of eight hours or more. The warning expires at 9 a.m. EST Thursday morning.

Sub-freezing temperatures are also expected for a shorter time in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami. In south Florida, temperatures are expected to flirt with all-time record lows before sunrise.

In addition to the cold temperatures, high winds, reaching 30 mph (50 kph) in some places, will bring even icier wind chills to the peninsula. Before dawn, wind chills between 0 and 10 above (-18 to -12 degrees Celsius) are expected for all of northern Florida and sections of central Florida, down to the Tampa metropolitan area at certain intervals. The southern half of the state will deal with wind chills between 10 and 20 above (-12 to -6 degrees Celsius), except for extreme southeastern Florida, which will see wind chills in the low 20s (-6 to -4 degrees Celsius).

Tomorrow brings widespread sunshine across the state, with temperatures predicted to warm into the 40s and 50s, approximately five to ten degrees warmer than the previous day's maximum. Tomorrow night will bring a freeze to the northern half of Florida, while the southern portion will warm slightly into the 30s and 40s at night (between 0 and 10 degrees Celsius).