As if on cue, the cold weather arrived Friday for the first day of winter.
For the first time this season, Tampa area officials opened emergency shelters for the homeless and people whose homes are not adequately heated. Officials also advised citizens to protect their pipes, plants and pets.
Until now, this month's temperatures have been running about 5 degrees higher than average, said National Weather Service forecaster Tyler Fleming.
"We had a cold front come through overnight," Fleming said. A narrow band of storms dropped one-half to three-fourths of an inch of rain on the area Thursday night, bringing in cool air.
The service posted a freeze warning for Pasco and other northern counties for Friday night, with temperatures expected to dip into the 20s to around 30, Fleming said. The overnight temperature was expected to be higher — in the mid-30s — near the bay and along the coast.
A freeze watch was in effect for tonight, although the temperatures could be moderated by cloud cover that might act as a blanket to keep higher temperatures in place, said forecaster Robert Garcia.
Highs are forecast to reach into the 60s in the Tampa area today, rising a few degrees on Sunday.
"What were seeing today will slowly die down," Fleming said. By Sunday, the temperature will be a little below the normal December high of 71. And by Christmas, the temperature will be a little above normal.
The first widespread snowstorm of the season dumped more than 11/2 feet of snow in Michigan and made travel difficult in the Great Lakes region on Thursday. The storm weakened as it moved east Friday.
The storm, part of a system that began in the Rockies earlier in the week, was blamed for deaths in at least five states. Snow was forecast Friday for Pennsylvania, and the system was developing a second front, with a mix of snow and rain, in the New York City area and New Jersey.
In the Tampa area, winter overall is expected to be near normal or a little warmer than normal, Fleming said.
The chill isn't expected to affect tonight's Boat Parade of Lights in the Channel District, said Karissa Brown, admissions representative for the SS American Victory ship.
"So far things are still going as planned," Brown said. "We're just directing people to wear sweaters."
Hillsborough County opened emergency shelters for the homeless Friday night. Officials will decide today whether shelters will be open tonight, said county spokesman Willie Puz.
Nicole Pinson, a horticulture agent with the county extension service, said residents of traditionally colder areas such as Plant City, Valrico and Riverview should take steps to protect their plants.
"Sometimes we get these cold snaps a little bit later," she said. "We had a bit of reprieve this year."
The Brandon Community Center, Jackson Springs Recreation Center and Wimauma Community Center are accepting donations of shelter supplies such as blankets, disinfectant wipes, disposable cups, coffee, creamer, paper plates, plastic utensils and sugar, officials said.
Meals for the shelters are provided through Metropolitan Ministries. Those wishing to donate nonperishable items should contact Metropolitan Ministries at (813) 209-1000.