The blast of walk-in freezer air that smacked you in the face Tuesday morning was chilly, but the worst is past, forecasters say, as Tampa begins to climb out of the arctic zone back to the subtropics where it belongs.
Forecasters say the mercury could reach the low to mid 80s in just a couple of days, while the rest of the nation shivers under record cold temperatures, ice and snow.
The Tampa area had its coldest temperatures of the winter Tuesday morning, according to the National Weather Service in Ruskin. The low was 33 degrees, just two degrees above a record low for Tuesday’s date, set in 1891, said Paul Close, meteorologist with the weather service.
The cold is the work of the same weather system that is turning the rest of the nation into a snow globe. The arctic air is sliding down the side of a high pressure system that currently is over the Midwest, and “funneling all the cold air down here,” Close said.
The coldest temperatures on Tuesday morning came between 8-9 a.m., he said, when typically the day’s lows occur just before sunrise.
This morning will start out a couple degrees warmer than Tuesday, the start of a trend back to normalcy for the region. The weather service, though, continuing its freeze warning this morning for areas of Pasco County north, and cold shelters were opened Tuesday night throughout the region.
At Pinellas Safe Harbor, the county’s main homeless shelter, those who were sleeping outside were moved inside Monday night, and the shelter was at full capacity Tuesday night, said Cecilia Barreda, a spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. The shelter has 370 beds inside, and typically 100 beds outside.
As cold as it was, the temperature stayed above freezing for much of West Central Florida, sparing the sprawling strawberry crops in eastern Hillsborough County.
“You’re always concerned,” said Gary Parke of Parkesdale Farms in Plant City. “Anything that can change a good day into a bad year, that gets your attention.”
He said the temperature didn’t dip low enough to start pumping ground water onto the crops to protect them from the cold.
In Hernando County, Tuesday morning lows dropped to 31 degrees. The wind chill made it feel like 21 degrees.
Tampa International Airport continued to see a high number of flight delays and cancellations Tuesday because of icy conditions to the north. By Tuesday afternoon, the airport reported 117 delayed flights, with an average delay time of just over an hour. In addition to the delays, there have been 28 cancelled flights.
Tampa area residents will thaw by the end of the week, according to the weather service.
The warming trend should begin today, with highs reaching the mid 60s and low 70s in some areas. By Thursday and Friday, we’ll be near 80.
Staff writer Stephen Thompson contributed to this report.