- Kimberly Miller Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Update 5 a.m.: A wind chill advisory is in effect for Palm Beach County until 10 a.m., according to the National Weather service.
Wind chills could range from the mid 20s to the mid 30s.
Today is forecast to be sunny with high temperatures only reaching near 58 degrees. Tonight, temperatures will drop significantly to around 39 with a northwest wind around 7 mph.
Original Story: Snow fell Wednesday in the Sunshine State as a rogue twist in the atmosphere caused temperatures to plummet throughout the Peninsula leaving South Florida shivering this morning and a blizzard headed toward the Northeast.
It’s the first time in nearly three decades that Tallahassee received snow, a function of a deep dig in the jet stream and a revving low pressure system in the Atlantic that was forecast to rapidly intensify as it zips up the eastern seaboard.
Wednesday’s icy conditions in the Panhandle closed portions of I-10 and put Palm Beach County on alert for what was to arrive overnight — a blast of winter that prompted a wind-chill advisory until 10 a.m., opened cold-weather shelters, and had wildlife officials warning of cold-immobilized iguanas falling from trees.
Green iguanas can become sluggish or paralyzed when temperatures hit between 40 and 50 degrees because of a lack of blood flow. This can cause them to “even fall out of trees,” according to a spokesman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“This is a good opportunity for people in South Florida to wear their warmest outfit, the one that sits in the closet all year and never gets worn,” said Andrew Hagen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami. “For us, there’s no more storm, just the very cold temperatures.”
Hagen said Palm Beach County’s barrier islands and immediate coastline might drop to 40 degrees this morning, but areas near or west of I-95 were forecast to dip into the mid to upper 30s with a wind chill temperature in the 20s.
For emergency managers, the forecast was enough to open two cold-weather shelters Wednesday evening at the Westgate Community Center in West Palm Beach and the West County Senior Center in Belle Glade.
The shelters open when a temperature of 40 degrees or lower, or a wind chill lower than 35 degrees, is expected for at least four hours. With Friday’s morning forecast similar to today’s, it’s likely the shelters will open for a second night, but decisions are made on a daily basis.
Farmers, too, are watching the cold snap closely.
Those in western Palm Beach County around Lake Okeechobee said brisk winds overnight meant they didn’t need to fly helicopters to mix the dense cold air at the ground with warmer air above in an effort to prevent damaging frost.
But that might change tonight in hopes of keeping frost from forming on tender vegetable crops such as sweet corn and green beans.
Judy Sanchez, U.S. Sugar Corp. spokeswoman, said the company plans to hire the helicopters to fly over sweet corn fields.
Ryan Roth of Roth Farms east of Belle Glade, said the business does not plan to hire helicopters.
“The freeze from early December already caused damage to some of the corn we have, so it’s not worth the risk to spend the money on helicopters,” Roth said.
Instead, the farm was harvesting ahead of the cold on Wednesday, a day when it doesn’t normally harvest.
“Corn and beans are at greatest risk. We have radishes, leafy vegetables and celery that are at risk of damage but unlikely to be destroyed. It just depends on how cold we get,” Roth said.
If there’s a freeze and sugar cane is damaged, it would need to be harvested as quickly as possible, and harvesting is already behind schedule.
A freeze watch is in effect for areas of Glades and Hendry counties until 9 a.m. this morning.
Jon Erdman, a digital meteorologist with Weather.com, said the low pressure that developed off the east coast of Florida, is forecast to undergo a rapid strengthening called bombogenesis as it heads north. The term is used when a storm’s pressure is expected to plummet 24 millibars or more during a 24-hour period.
“We are concerned about the snow, but we are also expecting wind gusts of up to 70 mph, if not higher, along coastal eastern New England,” Erdman said. “Because of the weight of the snow and force of the wind, we may have more than a million people without power with fresh cold air coming in right behind this winter storm.”
Florida officials warned this week about the dangers space heaters and generators can cause from housefires and carbon monoxide poisoning. It was a worry echoed by Palm Beach County emergency managers who advised space heaters be checked for tip-over and overheat protection.
“The last time we had temperatures like this was February 2015,” Hagen said. “Pretty much everywhere will have wind-chill temperatures between 29 and 33 this morning.”
In Tallahassee, where about an inch of snow accumulated Wednesday, residents took to social media, enthusiastically posting images of flakes falling in Florida.
“There was a mass text from work and everyone was freaking out, like, ‘Oh my God, there is snow,”’ said 24-year-old Jessica Reeve, who works at Momo’s Pizza in Tallahassee. “People were really surprised. It was a spectacle.”
Reeve, however was unimpressed.
“I’m from Canada,” she said.