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Parts of the Panhandle reported wintry precipitation on Tuesday. But just how uncommon is it?

January 17, 2024

Residents of the Panhandle woke up to an uncommon sight on Tuesday morning: Snow flurries and freezing rain. The conditions were brought on by the passage of a strong cold front through the Mississippi Valley and the Southeast.

Radar scans on Tuesday morning showed sleet and wintry mix over far western parts of Florida’s Panhandle. These conditions were confirmed by ground observations throughout the Mobile-Pensacola area, and farther north into interior Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. The rare sight was brief as temperatures in the area hovered near freezing. Aside from some ice and frost, no substantial impacts were felt.

"Any winter precipitation in the western Florida Panhandle is uncommon but not unheard of,” NWS Meteorologist Jason Beaman said. “In fact, in January 2014, a very significant freezing rain/sleet event impacted those areas, shutting down a large portion of I-10 as a result.”

With the right amount of moisture in the air and cold air, winter precipitation is not impossible for Florida.

What’s the difference between freezing rain and sleet?

Freezing rain is a raindrop that falls and immediately freezes on contact with a surface. Sleet is a snowflake that melted in a warm layer above the surface but was able to freeze prior to hitting the ground.

Looking ahead

After a brief warmup on Thursday, another strong surge of arctic air will move in by Friday. Another hard freeze is possible for Friday night and into Saturday morning.

No winter precipitation is expected for this cold front.

For real-time updates and critical information, follow Florida Public Radio Emergency Network.

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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