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Cold weather has pros and cons for Clearwater Beach visitors and business owners

CLEARWATER

Brenda Daniels was practically the only human being out on Clearwater Beach as a cold drizzle fell Friday afternoon. It was chilly, windy and rainy — not exactly beach weather. But she didn't mind. • "This is balmy," said Daniels, 47, "compared to what we are used to this time of year." • Of course, she's from Alberta, Canada, where at that moment the temperature was 13 below zero.

One of the harshest winters in recent memory is having an effect on the sunshiny tourism destination of Clearwater Beach.

It's a mixed blessing, beach hotels say.

On one hand, visitors hoping for a little beach time are finding themselves shivering in record-low temperatures instead. It's almost never this cold for this long in the Tampa Bay area.

"Some people are disappointed and check out early. They say, 'What's the point in staying here if it's not warm?' " said Jack Guy, spokesman for the Sheraton Sand Key Resort.

But there's a silver lining: An absolutely brutal winter up north is causing lots of people in the Midwest to start making reservations for beach trips in late February and March.

"These cold spells stimulate people to start thinking about their beach vacations," Guy said. "They say, 'I'm going to do that this year,' because they've still got months of cold weather coming."

Other local hotels are seeing the same trend.

"The call activity from up north is considerable," said Stuart Arp, general manager of the Sandpearl Resort. "We think we're having it tough, but I just talked to someone from St. Louis who said the high there today was going to be 2 degrees.

"So it's all relative."

Still, things are certainly slow right now. With chilly winds sweeping in from the Gulf of Mexico for the past week, visitors aren't swarming to the beach.

No one's hanging out at Tate Island Grill, the Sandpearl's beach front bar. Arp was stunned to see guests swimming in the resort's pool just the other day; they were from the United Kingdom.

The only saving grace is that this period between the holidays and February isn't usually the busiest time for the beach anyway.

"If we're going to have cold weather, this is the perfect two weeks to have it," Arp said.

Meanwhile, the tourists who are here are making do.

Sisters Brittney and Brescia Larsen, 14 and 16, huddled in T-shirts while looking for shells on the empty beach south of Pier 60 on Friday. Their family, from Casper, Wyoming, had hoped for temperatures in the 80s.

Nearby, a crew with Pier 60 Concessions began gathering up 40 cabanas and 80 beach chairs they had set out earlier that morning. It wasn't even noon yet.

There are still tourists here, though — partly because it's so miserably cold up north. Much of the rest of the country is enduring an icy arctic blast.

"They're not happy that it's cold, but everybody always says it's better than where they came from," said Sheila Cole of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce.

She's been steering visitors to indoor activities like the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg.

"Even when it's cold, you can still go to Tarpon Springs and walk around, and you're somewhat protected," Cole said. "The hardier souls manage to get out on the beach for a couple hours."

Times photographer Douglas R. Clifford contributed to this report. Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Cold weather has pros and cons for Clearwater Beach visitors and business owners 01/09/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 9, 2010 2:13pm]
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