Winters

winter collage

Images of snow and freeze events in Florida. Courtesy of Florida Memory.

Although many people head south to escape the cold in the winter, it isn't always warmer in Florida. When an intense low pressure system is followed by a strong high pressure system, particularly powerful invasions of cold air may occur in Florida. These cold air outbreaks can produce below-freezing temperatures and are usually accompanied by strong winds that can produce bitterly cold wind chills.

Over the past 150 years, numerous severe cold outbreaks have affected Florida. In February 1899, a cold wave that became known as the Great Arctic Outbreak pushed frigid Canadian arctic air into the state. During this event, the lowest temperature ever recorded in Florida (-2°F) occurred on February 13, 1899. Since this outbreak, a number of "impact freezes" have influenced the retreat of the famous Florida orange groves from areas around Jacksonville and St. Augustine to their current locations in south Florida. 

SIGNIFICANT FLORIDA IMPACT FREEZES
Freeze Event Tallahassee Avon Park Fort Myers
December 1894 15°F 24°F 28°F
February 1899 -2°F N/A N/A
December 1934 20°F 21°F 29°F
January 1940 15°F 26°F 29°F
December 1962 20°F 24°F 28°F
January 1977 16°F 21°F 30°F
January 1981 8°F 18°F 28°F
January 1982 14°F 19°F 29°F
December 1983 14°F 23°F 33°F
January 1985 6°F 21°F 30°F
December 1989 13°F 20°F 27°F
January 1997 18°F 24°F N/A

 

Contrary to popular belief, it does snow in Florida. The first documented account of snow in Florida was reported in 1774. During the Great Arctic Outbreak, which was responsible for one of the biggest widespread snow events in the state, snow measured up to 3 inches deep in numerous Panhandle communities, and snow flurries were reported as far south as Fort Myers. Since 1886, there have been more than 80 months in which at least a trace of snow has been reported somewhere in the state. 

EXAMPLES OF FLORIDA SNOW EVENTS SINCE 1950
Date Description
February 2, 1951 Two inches were reported in St. Augustine and Crescent City.
March 6, 1954 Four inches were reported at the Milton Experimental Station; this total holds as the 24-hour state snowfall record.
February 13,1958 Rain changed to snow; 1.5 inches were reported in Jacksonville, and 2.8 inches reported in Tallahassee.
January 17-19, 1977 Snow started falling in Pensacola on the 17th. On the 19th, flurries were reported as far south as Homestead. Areas along I-4 (Tampa/Orlando) reported 1 to 2 inches of snow.
December 23, 1989 Rain changed to snow in Jacksonville, and totals of several inches were reported in some locations; the city had its first White Christmas.
March 12, 1993 The '93 Superstorm produced up to 4 inches of snow along the Florida Panhandle.
November 21, 2006 A dusting of snow fell over portions of central Florida, the first November snow in the state since 1912.
January 8-9, 2010 A light dusting of snow was seen in Jacksonville. Light snow fell in parts of central Florida with sleet/snow reported in Orlando, Tampa, and Melbourne. Flurries are reported in West Palm Beach and Kendall.
December 26, 2010 A mix of snow and sleet was reported in Jacksonville, with a freezing fog event around midnight. Tallahassee, Gainesville, and other locations in the northern peninsula reported flurries during the day.