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Historic cold snap threatens freezing temps; Florida to stop mocking northern winters for a few hours

A forecast map for 7 a.m. Friday shows freezing temperatures reaching deep into Florida. [National Weather Service]
A forecast map for 7 a.m. Friday shows freezing temperatures reaching deep into Florida. [National Weather Service]
Published Feb. 19, 2015

It has arrived. The big chill. The big freeze, even. The OMG-is-this-what-"cold"-really-means? cold.

Northerners might mock Floridians, to be sure — if they can muster the energy after shoveling more snow. But forecasters are honest. They know. Pretty much everywhere in Tampa Bay, it's going to be cold over the next 36 hours.

"It's been years in Tampa Bay since we've been this cold," said Bay News 9 meteorologist Juli Marquez.

Friday morning, it's possible that even Tampa and St. Petersburg will see temperatures below freezing. The last time meteorologists registered such a chill at Tampa International Airport? Jan. 13, 2011, Marquez said. It was 31 degrees. Do you remember that day? Probably not; you were most likely under a blanket, wishing it would end.

This is the Sunshine State. It's not supposed to be like this.

The highs for the area were in the 40s Thursday morning. The expected high for the entire day, according to Bay News 9, is 50 degrees. The forecast calls for Friday to eventually reach a balmy 58. Salvation? Not quite — we've got to get through the night before that.

And that's when the cold will really hit, Marquez said.

The National Weather Service has issued a freeze watch in Pinellas and Hillsborough. It will take effect 1 a.m. and last until 9 a.m., when, forecasters said, temperatures will plummet to between 27 and 32 degrees, for hours. HOURS.

Further north? It's even worse. There's a hard freeze watch in effect for Pasco, Hernando and Citrus. The NWS predicts "subfreezing temperatures" from 20 to 26 degrees overnight and into the morning. Subtropical? No. Subfreezing. Why is that even in the Florida lexicon?

Mercy. Look at a weather map. You can see it coming, a big hulking mass of air, tinted dark purple — the color your fingers will turn if you leave them out too long — headed straight for Miami.

The cold could be historic, Marquez said.

The record low for Friday in Tampa is 35 degrees. It happened in 1960, according to Marquez. For St. Petersburg, it's 39 degrees, from 1958. And in Brooksville it's 26 degrees, from 1923.

The wind is only going to make it feel colder, Marquez said. A stiff breeze will linger into Friday, producing real, honest-to-goodness wind chill advisories.

But it will be okay. Forecasters expect the winds to shift Saturday from northerly to easterly, Marquez said.

By the afternoon, Tampa Bay should be back in the 70s.

Whew.

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