Frozen college students are trading in snow drifts and cold walks to class for a different, more welcomed, kind of white powder — the sand of Pinellas County beaches.
This week marks the beginning of the spring break season, a four- to six-week stretch when high school and college students flock from near and far to lounge on the beach and melt away the memories of a remarkably brutal winter.
Clearwater Beach always draws a substantial spring break crowd, and Darlene Kole, president of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce, expects this year to be no different. "We're going to be sold out this spring break," she said.
Madeira Beach is also likely to see spring breakers, as is St. Pete Beach. Treasure Island used to be a big spring break destination until the city limited alcohol consumption on the beach due to large, rowdy crowds.
Shephard's Beach Resort, the college spring break mecca on the south end of Clearwater Beach, will remain a top destination this year, especially on Sundays as it revives its Beach Party Sundays tradition.
Owner Bill Shephard said the resort, which just added 93 rooms and a new pool, will host parties with a different theme every night through spring break season. Rapper Vanilla Ice is scheduled to perform on the resort's famed "Paddy-o" deck March 15.
Radio station WiLD 94.1 will again hold WiLD Splash, a day-long hip-hop festival in Coachman Park in downtown Clearwater, on Saturday. It will feature artists Wiz Khalifa, B.o.B. and Far East Movement.
Despite all the activities, Kole contends that Clearwater does not draw the "wild and crazy type of spring breakers," adding, "I think it's managed so well that it doesn't have an opportunity to get out of hand."
Doing most of the managing on Clearwater Beach will be police Lt. William Valveri. He said the city recently assigned two officers to the beach permanently. Also, eight more officers are on hand specifically for the spring break season.
Valveri said traffic is the department's main concern. Beyond that, "it's more quality of life type issues, minor offenses, the open alcohol on the beach, disorderly conduct, disorderly intoxication." He also warned of phone and wallet theft on the beach.
Clearwater Beach has installed red-light cameras on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and Chestnut Street — major routes to and from the beach. Owners of cars photographed running the red lights will get a $158 ticket.