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The Cuddliest Valentine's Day Ever in Florida

February 11, 2016

On this date 117 years ago, most Floridians were basking in typical 70-degree warmth. What happened next, though, would even make this morning’s chill feel balmy. The period of February 12-14, 1899 was the most extreme winter weather event to hit Florida. Wind-driven snow and white-out conditions were reported in the panhandle, flurries fell as far south as Fort Myers, and temperatures plummeted below zero for the first and only time in our state’s history. There’s no doubt the frigid weather had everyone finding creative ways to stay warm on Valentine’s Day that year.

The month started warm, similar to how we kicked off February this year. On the 4th, southerly winds ahead of an approaching front sent daytime highs into the 70’s and 80’s. The warm weather lasted until the 8th, when the first of three punishing cold fronts moved through in a period of six days. Temperatures fell over 50 degrees in less than 36 hours across North Florida with the first front, and a hard freeze spread as far south as Marion County.

Lawmakers staged a snowball fight on the steps of the Florida Capitol in February 1899. Photo credit: FloridaMemory.com

Lawmakers staged a snowball fight on the steps of the Florida Capitol in February 1899. Photo credit: FloridaMemory.com

This paled in comparison to the double whammy of fronts February 12-13. An arctic airmass from Canada was forced all the way into the Gulf of Mexico and Tallahassee’s temperature fell to -2° on the 13th, still the state’s coldest reading on record. A storm system developed along the third front, producing rain that changed to sleet, then to snow in much of central and north Florida. Accumulations ranged from 4” near Pensacola to an about an inch in Gainesville. A trace of snow was even recorded as far south as Fort Myers. Afternoon temperatures the following day, February 14th, struggled to get out of the teens in cities like Gainesville and Tallahassee, and Miami’s low of 29 was some 33 degrees below normal. The snow that fell along what is now the I-10 corridor stayed on the ground for three days!

The frigid February wasn’t just a Florida problem that year. Often referred to as the “Great Arctic Outbreak of 1899”, five other states recorded all-time record lows during the first two weeks of the month, numbers that still stand today. Blizzard conditions were reported from New Orleans to New York, and ice was even seen flowing out of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

While not a strong or as cold, a similar parade of cold fronts have kept temperatures well below normal in much of Florida recently. However, long range forecast data suggests a shift in the weather pattern will finally send some warmer weather our way. Near normal temperatures are forecast by the Climate Prediction Center for the period of February 18-24. Average afternoon temperatures this time of year are in the 60’s and 70’s (north to south), while overnight lows typically fall into the 40’s and 50’s.  Rainfall is also expected to be near normal through the 24th, with a gradual return to wetter-than-normal conditions likely by the end of the month.


Editor's note: This story was edited by Meteorologist Jeff Huffman.

Sources include nearest National Weather Service office, National Hurricane Center, and the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network (@FloridaStorms).
Sources include nearby emergency management agencies, FEMA, and your local NPR affiliate. 
Sources include the Florida Department of Transportation, Florida Highway Patrol and other nearby traffic information.

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