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Wind chill, freeze alerts expand ahead of bitterly cold holiday weekend

Freeze alerts are in place ahead of the holiday weekend.
Meteorologist Justin Ballard
Florida Public Radio Emergency Network
Millions are under freeze alerts as temperatures could plunge into the teens and 20s.

Cold weather alerts are in place across much of Florida ahead of the arrival of plunging temperatures in time for the holiday weekend.

A powerful cold front is sending much of the nation into a deep freeze Thursday afternoon and that front has the Sunshine State in its path. While wind-whipped snow may not be an issue Floridians have to deal with, a plunge in temperatures could lead to burst pipes and dangerously low wind chills in parts of North Florida and the Panhandle. Before the winter chill settles in for the holiday weekend, a few stray showers are possible Thursday into Friday. First in line for a few stray showers Thursday into Thursday night are the Panhandle and North Florida. 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. Rain chances should quickly diminish as the cold front passes, and a rush of Arctic air pushes in from Canada.

Forecast lows in the Panhandle Friday are expected to drop into the teens. As of publishing Thursday afternoon, this area is going to be most susceptible to a hard freeze. For this reason, a Hard Freeze Warning is in effect for the Pensacola area starting Friday night and lasting through Sunday morning. This is likely to be expanded to other areas of the Panhandle later Thursday or into Friday, so areas like Panama City and Tallahassee should prepare accordingly. Between Jacksonville and Gainesville, low temperatures Friday will fall into the lower 20s, prompting the National Weather Service offices in Tallahassee and Jacksonville to issue Hard Freeze alerts this area. In the Orlando and Tampa area, lows near-freezing could occur for the first time since January 2018 Friday night. A Freeze Watch will go into effect Friday night from Orlando to Tampa, to the northern shore of Lake Okeechobee. Further south, temperatures should remain safely above freezing in the 40s. Lows in Fort Myers, West Palm Beach, and Miami will generally settle into the lower and middle 40s through early Saturday.

Saturday morning forecast wind chills.
Wind chills are likely to be in the single digits for many along and north of I-10 Saturday morning.
Florida Public Radio Emergency Network

The cold is also coming with strong winds, which will provide a biting edge to the chill. In the Panhandle and North Florida, wind chills could be as low as the single digits and teens. A wind chill advisory will go into effect Friday from Pensacola to Jacksonville, to Ocala. Be aware that frostbite and hypothermia can occur on exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes with wind chills this low. Outside of these areas, wind chills could still drop into the upper 20s and lower 30s as far south as Fort Myers.

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 near and along I-10 likely remaining in the 30s. Closer to Orlando and Tampa, highs on Christmas Eve Day will be in the middle and upper 40s, with highs near 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. To avoid issues with burst pipes, let water from faucets slowly drip while temperatures are below freezing. Residents are also encouraged to leave cabinets open under sinks to ensure heated air surrounds plumbing indoors. While this 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.