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Man-made snow creates White Christmas in Zephyrhills

Rebecca Hamm, 12, left, of Zephyrhills, squirms as she gets pelted with man-made “snow” as she and friend Julia Holland, also 12, wait for their turn to slide down a snow-covered mound at the YMCA in Zephyrhills on Friday afternoon.

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

Rebecca Hamm, 12, left, of Zephyrhills, squirms as she gets pelted with man-made “snow” as she and friend Julia Holland, also 12, wait for their turn to slide down a snow-covered mound at the YMCA in Zephyrhills on Friday afternoon.

ZEPHYRHILLS — It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the East Pasco Y.

Seriously.

Nevermind the 80 degree temperatures and sunny skies. There's a foot of snow on the ground just in time for the congregants of New Walk Church to celebrate their Christmas Glow.

It comes via Orlando-based Birchmore Group, one of three Florida event planners that specialize in creating winter despite the forecast. They're so popular, they're mostly booked through January.

"We're doing a lot of winter wonderland events," events director Dargan Watts said. "There's just something magic about snow, especially in Florida."

While the thermometer may dip into the 20s from time to time around here, the fluffy white stuff is more of a stranger. The area had a light dusting in 2010, but nothing that stuck.

That's what made the idea of a winter wonderland so attractive.

"We were trying to think of something creative to draw people to the church," organizer Shawn Baldus said. "We thought most of our community has never seen snow."

They'll see 22 tons of it this weekend. It was created Friday afternoon by a five-man Birchmore team at a cost of $249 a ton.

How to make the snow? Simple.

"We use bagged ice," Watts explained.

The crew funnels the ice into a specially modified chipper that finely grates the ice into snow flakes. Using a blower and a hose, it pumps the blizzard into the event area.

It takes about 20 minutes to complete 4 tons, which cover about 200 square feet, one foot deep.

And, believe it or not, it sticks for up to 24 hours even in summer-like conditions.

"You can insulate it with hay bales," Watts said. "At 80 degrees, you can get 14 to 24 hours out of it, as long as you have a good base. That's why we don't go below 12 inches... It will solidify and stay cold enough to keep the snow on top."

Now, all bets are off if people start rolling too many snowmen, removing the top layer.

But playing is expected — Baldus said she's purchased sleds off the Internet and set up an area for snowballs (New Walk has ordered an overnight refresh). So remember this: Even though it's warm outside, it's still snow.

"If the wind is blowing, you can feel the chill blowing off the ice," Watts said. "I recommend jeans and possibly gloves, depending on how long you're going to be in the snow."

The event is open to anyone who attends this weekend's church services. The remaining services are at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. today at the East Pasco YMCA, 37301 Chapel Hill Loop, Zephyrhills.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4614.

Man-made snow creates White Christmas in Zephyrhills 12/23/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 23, 2011 6:49pm]
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