On warmer nights, Jerry Hardison can sleep for a few hours at the recycling center. He works 11-hour shifts there. He gets off at 2:30 a.m., then waits until the buses start running again.
But not Wednesday.
"Getting out that time of the morning in the serious cold, itís bad," he said.
On this night, Hardison, 60, sat on the floor of the Northwest Presbyterian Church near Kenneth City, eating a bowl of homemade soup.
He came to the shelter "to stay out of the cold so I donít die," Hardison said. "No other alternatives."
Across the Tampa Bay area, people like Hardison sought shelter to escape the plummeting temperatures, which prompted a freeze warning for the region and threatened to bring cold not seen in years. They may be homeless like Hardison, or have no heat in their homes.
Lows across the bay area will be near or below freezing this morning, said 10Weather WTSP meteorologist Grant Gilmore. The National Weather Service issued freeze warnings for Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco counties, meaning forecasters expected overnight temperatures to be 32 degrees or colder for at least two hours.
Hernando County found itself under a hard freeze warning, meaning temperatures were expected to fall to 28 degrees or below for at least two hours.
It would be the first time Tampa hit freezing since Jan. 13, 2011, according to the weather service. Temperatures region-wide were expected to be a few degrees lower than on the chilliest night of the cold spell that gripped the bay area in earlier this month.
The cold front was part of a winter storm that blanketed much of the continental United States on Wednesday brought snow to all 50 states, according to the Weather Channel. Flakes fell in Panama City and Destin, marking the second time this year the Panhandle has seen snow.
Pinellas County opens its cold weather shelters when temperatures are forecasted to be below 40 degrees, said Jim Leiby, who has run the shelter at Northwest Presbyterian for 28 years. He expected about 60 people to spend the night Wednesday. But he was ready for double, or more.
"I donít turn anybody away," he said.
The shelter was equipped with a closet-full of sleeping mats, jackets and blankets. And a pot of chili simmered in the kitchen. All donated. Does he ever worry about running out of supplies?
"Does God ever run out of time?" the 69-year-old asked in reply. "No."
In Pasco County, Keith Barrows was one of about 25 men and women who sought shelter Wednesday evening at Joining Hands Mission Church in Holiday. He stood outside bundled in a gray sweatshirt until he finished his cigarette.
Without Joining Hands, Barrows, 54, said he would have probably spent his night on U.S. 19 in a makeshift home he created for himself. But temperatures there were projected to fall below freezing.
"No matter what, I always survive," said Barrows, who said he has been homeless for a year now. "But I thank God (Joining Hands) gave me that blanket."
Volunteer Pam Paone brought baked ziti and a slew of jackets and coats to the mission for those seeking shelter. She sifted through the bags filled to the brim with warm clothes that she donated. She said it was "just amazing to help out."
"Knowing you can help them is worth anything 10 times over," Paone said. "It feels good to know, and itís good for them to know that there is help out there."
The shelter Northwest Presbyterian had a large communal space. There were nine round tables on one side where some played Scrabble while others sat watching Law & Order on a small standard definition television.
Darci Clayton, 61, stood on the other side of the hall, near the stage, holding a bag of art supplies and a sketch book. Sheís an artist, drawing greeting cards, magnets and decorations for lighters, and prefers to spend nights in her tent when she has permission to pitch it in a back yard. Lately sheís been sleeping in her car in an alley in Gulfport with her kitten, 5-month-old Georgetta.
It was her first night in a shelter. She volunteered at shelters in Nashville for years, she said, and saw sickness and disease, so sheís tried to avoid staying in one. But freeze warnings donít leave many options.
"Itís getting too cold to be in the car," she said. She doesnít run her Toyota Corolla at night to save gas. She was allowed into the shelter, but Georgetta wasnít. So Clayton left the kitten in her bed in the car.
Hardison sat nearby. He was cheery, talking of his three sons: Jason, 22, a student at the University of South Florida studying physical therapy; Jimmy, a University of Florida student; and Joshua, 17, a Pinellas Park High School student who excels in music.
But he canít stay with any of them. The shelter wasnít so bad, though. He enjoyed socializing with everyone else trying to escape the cold.
"They say misery loves company," he said. "But misery shared gets cut in half. Love shared gets double."
Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @ByJoshSolomon.