LAKE MARY, Fla. – A massive winter storm is brewing for millions across the Midwest, Great Lakes, and Northeast, packing dangerous threats of heavy snow, rain, damaging winds, and plummeting temperatures that could snarl travel at the peak of the busy holiday season.
The arctic blast that is covering much of the nation this week leading up to Christmas weekend isn’t sparing Florida as cold air pushes into the Sunshine State. Low temperatures Sunday morning are expected in the 30s across northern and central Florida, with high temperatures only managing to claw their way into the 50s.
For several towns and cities in Florida and the Southeast, it will likely be one of – if not the coldest – Christmas Days on record, threatening the records set during the chilly Christmases of 1989 and 1983. If freezing temperatures mix with precipitation, could we see snow in Florida? Is that even possible? Well, it has happened before.
Has it ever snowed in Orlando?
FOX 35 Chief meteorologist Jayme King looked back at the last 50 years of weather reporting in Florida and found that 1977 and 1993 stood out as two marquee years for snow accumulations in the Sunshine State.
The 1977 date brought flurries to Miami and accumulating snow in Orlando and Tampa. The Orlando Sentinel previously reported on the 1977 event, and you can see more photographs of the Orlando snow of 1977 here.
Has it ever snowed in Miami?
For Miami, it was definitely a day for the record books. When snow fell over South Florida over four decades ago for the first time, the news pushed President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration out of the headlines. It was a rare phenomenon that was unheard of at that time. Snow was seen across southeastern Florida as far south as Homestead and even on Miami Beach on Jan. 19, 1977.
The first arctic front moved through the region with temperatures failing to reach 60 degrees in Miami from Jan. 17-20. The National Weather Service (NWS) said that the coldest air and snow arrived with the second arctic front on Jan. 19, with Miami’s afternoon high of 47 degrees being the second-coldest afternoon high on record.
The NWS previously tweeted the front page of The Miami News, the evening newspaper in Miami and chief competitor to the Miami Herald morning paper, with the headline “Snow in Miami!” in a font size generally reserved for declarations of war.
Every reporting station in North and Central Florida recorded at least a trace of snow that day.
While the Miami International Airport did not observe the snowfall, the NWS said cooperative stations in Hollywood and the Royal Palm Ranger Station in far southern Miami-Dade County reported a trace of snow.
Has it ever snowed in Tampa?
According to the NWS in Miami, Tampa measured 0.2 inches, and Plant City, east of Tampa, measured up to 2 inches.
The NWS said West Palm Beach reported its first snowfall on record at 6:10 a.m. and continued to report light snow for two hours following. Before then, the farthest south that snow had ever been reported was in February 1899 along a Fort Myers-to-Fort Pierce line, the NWS said.
Yvonne Berry cleans show off the windshield of her car in a Tampa parking lot on Jan. 19, 1977. (University of South Florida Special Collections Dept.)
It’s not as unusual for North Florida or the Florida Panhandle to see some wintry precipitation now and then, though significant accumulations are rare. However, a look through the state archives revealed a bevy of images showing snow measuring two or more inches in parts of the state.
According to the NWS, on February 13, 1958, 0.4 inches of snow was measured at the Tallahassee airport. But the total snow depth on this day and the previous day was 2.8 inches, the largest ever measured in Tallahassee with the majority of it falling on Feb. 12. Florida experienced disastrously cold temperatures during the winters of 1957 and 1958 with the Florida 1958 citrus crop experiencing severe damage estimated at greater than $5 million, according to reports (equivalent to roughly $52 million in 2022).
Florida Snow of 1958
Snow on the campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, Feb. 13, 1958. (FSU Digital Repository)
January and February are the months in which Florida is most likely to experience snow. According to the NWS, on Feb. 13, 1899, the all-time coldest temperature of -2°F was recorded in Tallahassee, and this remains the state record. The all-time lowest maximum temperature for Tallahassee of 22°F was also set on this date.
The system that had impacted Florida was part of a greater weather event that affected most of the United States, known as the Great Blizzard of 1899 or the Great Arctic Outbreak of 1899. Snow fell in parts of northern and central Florida during this record-cold outbreak, but there are no records as to how much snow actually accumulated. However, there are a number of images from the state archives.
Florida Snow of 1899
Snow around lake in Jackson County, Florida, Florida, Feb. 13, 1899. (State Archives of Florida)