A widespread hard freeze is likely in portions of the Panhandle and North Florida Friday night as an Arctic chill arrives before the holiday weekend.
The winter solstice is Wednesday and it appears that Mother Nature received the memo. A powerful cold front is plowing through the nation’s midsection Wednesday afternoon, with widespread heavy snow and blizzard conditions across the Upper Midwest and a biting winter chill rushing in behind it. Floridians can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that blizzard conditions are not forecast, however, a plunge in temperatures is expected state-wide.
Before the winter chill arrives Friday into Saturday, a few showers are expected first. The Panhandle and North Florida are first in line for a few stray showers Thursday into Thursday night. A few rumbles of thunder are possible, though instability looks limited. As the cold front advances south and east through the night Thursday, the risk for rain will push closer to the I-4 corridor. Limited moisture will result in only isolated shower chances. As the cold front moves into South Florida Friday, a stray shower or storm is forecast in the West Palm Beach and Miami area.
This cold front is a classic moisture-starved Arctic front for the Sunshine State, so widespread rain is not expected to accompany this frontal passage. The more substantial weather impact will come in the form of bitterly cold weather, especially Friday and Saturday nights. Forecast lows in the Panhandle Friday are expected to drop into the teens, with wind chills in the far northwest corner of the state likely to drop near zero. As of publishing Wednesday afternoon, this area is going to be most susceptible to a hard freeze. For this reason, a Hard Freeze Watch is in effect for much of the Panhandle and portions of the Nature Coast due to the extreme cold set to arrive Friday. Between Jacksonville and Gainesville, low temperatures Friday will fall into the lower 20s with wind chills expected to settle into the teens. The I-4 corridor could see near-freezing temperatures for the first time since January 2018. Lows from Orlando to Tampa are forecast to be in the lower 30s Friday night. Fort Myers and West Palm Beach will likely experience lows into the lower and middle 40s Friday night, with areas like Miami falling into the upper 40s. Low temperatures will be nearly identical Saturday night, with most locations a degree or two “warmer” than Friday night.
High temperatures this weekend will be significantly below-average. Locations in the Panhandle and North Florida will likely spend the majority of Christmas Eve Day below 40, with a number of spots likely remaining in the 30s. Closer to Orlando and Tampa, highs on Christmas Eve Day will be in the upper 40s, with highs falling just shy of 60 degrees in South Florida. Christmas Day will feature continued chill, with highs forecast to be a degree or two higher than Christmas Eve Day.
Residents are encouraged to prepare their homes for the winter chill over the next day or so before the heart of the cold air moves in on Friday. While the blast of winter chill is intense, it will be short-lived. Temperatures into next week will start to gradually warm up across the entire state, with the Climate Prediction Center outlook depicting the potential for above-average temperatures for New Year’s Day.