It was a cold weekend across Tampa Bay — although not quite record-breaking — as temperatures dropped below freezing Saturday night and continued to cause shivers early Sunday.
The National Weather Service office in Ruskin recorded the weekend’s coldest temperatures a little before 8 a.m. Sunday as Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties each saw cities dip into lows the region had not felt in a few years. Clearwater hit 29 degrees, a low point in Pinellas. Across the bay, Tampa recorded a low of 27 degrees and Zephyrhills a low of 26 degrees.
Owing to the wide range of temperatures overnight was the area’s geography, said Austen Flannery, a meteorologist with the weather service in Ruskin. Areas closer to the water stay warmer, he explained, since water temperatures remain steadier. Inland, temperatures dropped more steeply, into the 20s.
“You’re going to see very drastic temperature changes over a short distance when so close to the water,” Flannery said.
A cold snap like this isn’t common, but it’s also not unheard of. Flannery said the last time temperatures dipped this low in the area was about three or four years ago.
“We get a cold snap every once in a while like this, but not necessarily every year,” Flannery said.
In response to the cold, Hillsborough County opened two emergency shelters for people experiencing homelessness, according to the county’s website. And in Pinellas County, the cold triggered the opening of seven overnight shelters, according to a Facebook post from the Homeless Leadership Alliance of Pinellas.
The shelters will remain open Sunday night for those experiencing homelessness or those without adequate heat.
Shelters are activated when it feels colder than 40 degrees outside.
Homeless Leadership Alliance CEO Amy Foster said the number of people who sought shelter hadn’t been tallied as of Sunday morning, but that in some places, including Clearwater, there was higher demand than usual.
The openings followed Friday’s “point in time count,” which is conducted by the county each year to assess the number of homeless people living in Pinellas, including those living in emergency shelters. The results are expected to be released in coming months.
While temperatures near freezing are quite rare in Florida, it appeared that the state escaped major damage to its winter citrus, strawberry and tomato crops.
Jim Meeks, an owner of the Parkesdale Farm Market in Plant City, said his family worked to keep tabs on the farm’s strawberries. His uncle, Bobby Parke, and cousin, Gary Parke, stayed up all night to be sure the freezing temperatures wouldn’t damage the fruit. But they were prepared, he said, and the farm is doing just fine.
“I remember it would freeze about half a dozen, 10 times a year when I was younger,” Meeks said. “These days, it’s once or twice.”
Farmers in Florida spray water onto crops to help protect them from the cold.
As for iguanas, well, that’s another matter. They are an invasive species, well accustomed to the trees of South Florida. When it gets cold, below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, they go into a sort of suspended animation mode. And they fall to the ground.
But they usually wake up with the sun’s warmth.
Across the state, Floridians felt colder temperatures than they had in years. The National Weather Service reported that West Palm Beach hit 37 degrees, the coldest morning of the past 12 years. Up the East Coast in Vero Beach, the record low was tied at 30 degrees, set in 1978.
Still, it’s not like a white-out. The Gasparilla pirate parade in Tampa, which was not held last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, went off without a hitch Saturday in sunny but chilly weather. Thousands of people did pirate-y things, snagged beads from the parade route, and generally ate, drank and were merry.
Yet the unseasonably cold weather in Florida prompted one church just south of Tampa Bay to rethink how it would welcome parishioners and visitors.
St. Michael the Archangel, on Siesta Key, canceled its two scheduled Masses on Sunday because it was too cold. During renovations, the church has been holding Mass outdoors, as it did on Saturday afternoon in 49-degree temperatures and with brisk winds. When a gust dislodged a support post and rendered the church tent unsafe, officials came up with a new plan. Mass would not be held, owing to temperatures falling into the mid-20s shortly after sunrise in Sarasota, but the Rev. Michael Cannon was offering the sacrament of communion Sunday, drive-thru style.
Floridians chronicled the cold online. Twitter user @IsadoraIzzy tweeted a photo of a birdbath in the Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch area, encrusted with a novel layer of ice.
The freezing temperatures will warm Monday, Flannery said. Overnight Sunday into Monday will be chilly, with some inland locations in the upper 30s. However, by Tuesday the highs will be in the 70s. By Wednesday and Thursday the Tampa Bay area will see temperatures possibly in the low 80s.
Beach weather again, and for the iguanas, not a moment too soon.
For those seeking shelter
Hillsborough: Cold weather shelters will open with limited capacity at The Portico, 1001 N Florida Ave., Tampa, and Amazing Love Ministries, 3304 E Columbus Drive, Tampa.
Metropolitan Ministries and Tampa Crossroads have a limited supply of single-night motel vouchers on a first-come, first-served basis. Preregistration is required and the deadline is 5 p.m. Individuals and families can call 813-209-1176. Individuals and couples without children can call 813-702-0850.
All Hillsborough shelters housing groups of people will comply with social distancing recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Any resident using a cold weather shelter will be screened for COVID-19 before entry. All residents and volunteers will be required to wear a face covering while inside the shelter. A mask will be provided if a person does not have one.