Frigid Florida temps prompt run on space heaters, crop concerns


South Florida awakes today to a second round of temperatures in the 30s, wind-chill advisories and crop concerns — lingering tolls of a storm that beat at the Northeast Thursday like a frozen hurricane.

While daytime highs in West Palm Beach might reach 60 degrees, the mercury was forecast to drop to 37 in the pre-dawn darkness with inland areas of Palm Beach County dipping low enough to initiate a freeze warning west of U.S. 441 until 9 a.m.

The shivering temps Thursday, which hit a morning low of 38 degrees at Palm Beach International Airport, left people turning their thermostats to warm and prompted a run on space heaters at stores.

National Weather Service reports from unofficial gauges showed temperatures as low as 34 degrees near Juno Beach, 35 in Belle Glade and 37 in Lake Worth. The high temperature in West Palm Beach reached just 55 — 20 degrees below normal and one degree shy of tying the coldest high temperature for Jan. 4 set in 2002.

“I’m freezing. I hate it. This is Florida,” said Whitney Joseph, who was walking in Canyon Town Center west of Boynton Beach Thursday morning. “I want my warm weather back. I shouldn’t be subjected to this.”

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Palm Beach County emergency managers opened two cold shelters for the second night Thursday. Forty-seven people stayed in the West Gate Community Center in West Palm Beach overnight Wednesday with two people in the West County Senior Center in Belle Glade.

Jeff Johnson, an assistant manager at The Home Depot on Okeechobee Boulevard, said the store has been sold out of space heaters since 10 a.m. Wednesday.

“That first cold snap a week or two ago people were buying them up,” Johnson said. “We sold out of the rest yesterday.”

Johnson said they sold roughly 100 heaters and looked to get more from other local stores with no luck. Now, the stores are waiting to replenish their stocks and that, too, is proving to be a challenge.

“We are trying to expedite more space heaters down here,” Johnson said. “But the trucks are being delayed because of the weather up north.”

The area of low pressure that formed Wednesday off Florida’s east coast grew into a monstrous Nor’easter Thursday with a pressure that plummeted 59 millibars in 24 hours — well past the 24 millibars in 24-hours criteria required to be considered a “bomb cyclone.”

AccuWeather meteorologist Jesse Ferrell said the storm’s central pressure was more intense than the so-called perfect storm of 1991 that inspired the movie of the same name about the sinking of the Andrea Gail.

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“The winds will intensify rapidly, the precipitation will intensify rapidly and the storm’s impact will be significant,” said Jonathan Erdman, a digital meteorologist with Weather.com.

Hurricane-force wind warnings, which are issued when winds are expected to reach at least 74 mph, were in effect along the coast of New Jersey through Maine. Wind gusts of 76 mph were recorded in Nantucket, according to the National Weather Service office in Boston.

High tides coinciding with the blasting winds pushed water ashore causing coastal flooding in many areas, while areas of Eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island got upwards of 15 inches of snow.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency Thursday and closed state offices. Cape May, N.J., was buried in 17 inches of snow as of 4 p.m.

According to FlightAware.com, about 11,500 flights were delayed, with another 5,000 canceled.

“If there is one saving grace to this whole thing, it’s not doing a slow crawl,” Erdman said. “It should be into Canada late Thursday to early Friday.”

In western Palm Beach County, farmers looked to fly helicopters over crops Thursday night into this morning hoping to mitigate cold damage. On nights with little wind, helicopters help mix the dense cold air at the surface with warmer air above.

Keith Wedgworth, president of the Western Palm Beach County Farm Bureau and vice president of Wedgworth Farms, Belle Glade, said Thursday some parts of the Everglades Agricultural Area had temperatures as low as 30 to 31 Wednesday night into Thursday.

Early reports indicate that some sweet corn and green bean crops were lost, and more damage is likely.

“There are a lot of helicopters scheduled to come in tonight,” Wedgworth said Thursday. “The second night is when the wind dies down, and frost can form. That is what usually gets the corn and the beans.”

John S. Hundley, vice president, Hundley Farms, east of Belle Glade said Thursday morning thermometers in fields in western Palm Beach County recorded temperatures under 25 degrees and temperatures below 32 degrees that lasted more than five hours.

Despite the Thursday morning chill, some downtown West Palm Beach residents stirred early to walk their dogs.

Paul Schiffman said he didn’t turn his heat on overnight, but was bundled up against the cold.

“I just put everything on that I had in my closet,” Schiffman said. “I tell people I play golf in the 70s, but if it gets colder than that, I don’t go out.”

Tonight is forecast to remain on the cool side with low temperatures in the 40s, but Saturday is expected to warm to 66 degrees during the day and drop overnight to 54 — closer to the 57 degrees that’s normal for this time of year.

By Sunday, the forecast is for mostly sunny skies and 72 degrees.

“Just hang in there for a few days and you’ll see some warmer weather,” said Erdman, who lives in Milwaukee. “This is the time of year when we look at weather maps and see Florida and ask ourselves, ‘Why am I still here?’”

Palm Beach Post Staff Writers Alexandra Seltzer and Tony Doris contributed to this report.



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