Texas was battered this month by Winter Storm Uri, which spanned a majority of the mainland U.S. and brought sub-zero temperatures from Minneapolis to Houston.
Tampa Bay, meantime, experienced temperatures into the 80s from Feb. 13 to 17, the coldest days of the storm, records from the National Weather Service show.
How did Florida do it?
We have the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean to thank, said Dan Sobien of the National Weather Service’s Ruskin office. The water, which stays in the 70s on both sides of the peninsula even during the winter, warms cold air as it passes above — neutralizing devastating storms before they reach the coasts of the Sunshine State.
“It’s not likely Florida will ever look like Texas did this last week,” Sobien said. “Anything is possible, but the water on all three sides of us warms the air when it passes over. And that protects us from extreme cold weather.”
Texas, by comparison, has nothing but open plains to the north, and they funnel cold fronts like Uri deep into the state.
Florida has experienced significant cold snaps, Sobien said, most notably in the early 1980s. But never has the region come close to reaching temperatures in the single digits — let alonebelow zero.
The coldest Tampa has ever gotten was 18 degrees in 1962. The record low for St. Petersburg was 20, during the same cold front.
Temperatures this low for more than a day would be “absolutely devastating” to the Tampa Bay region, Sobien said.
If Florida were to ever experience Uri-like weather, it would likely enter from the north, as well, and move down the spine of the peninsula, Sobien said. Such an extreme cold front wpud pierce3 the state between the ribbons of Interstate 75 and Interstate 95 with winds blowing directly south, keeping the ocean from warming the air.
Even then, it’s unlikely the extreme cold would last as long as it did in Texas, Sobien said. The winds would have to reach water eventually, he said, warming things back up.
“Florida isn’t prepared to handle cold to that degree,” he said. “But we also don’t have to worry about getting that cold.”