Florida Freeze Timeline
Around the first of January new Floridians begin asking when we are most likely to experience freezing weather? The answer is never really clear. Anytime between the first of December and the end of February there have been freezes. However, Florida freezes are infrequent and many years the weather remains balmy and temperatures never dip below 32°. On average only a few days per year will dip below freezing in central Florida. Frost occurs when temperatures drop below 40° F and occurs more frequently than freezes.
The past few years there has been very little cool weather, no freezing temps and limited frost. This week will usher in the first frost we've seen in a year and it is not forecast to be widespread south of Ocala.
The Climate Prediction Center is currently forecasting much warmer-than-normal temperatures for the Southeast and especially Florida through January 19. Expect between 1 and 10 freezing nights between Jacksonville and Fort Myers, but more likely 3 or less in an average year.
And Florida and Georgia experienced their warmest ever temperatures in 2019.
On average the last central Florida freeze occurs between January 20 and February 10. By mid-February it can often be uncomfortably warm.
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Despite recent rapid warming, over the past 150 years, numerous severe cold outbreaks have affected Florida. In February 1899, a cold wave that became known as the Great Arctic Outbreak pushed frigid Canadian arctic air into the state. During this event, the lowest temperature ever recorded in Florida (-2°F) occurred on February 13, 1899. Since this outbreak, a number of "impact freezes" have influenced the retreat of the famous Florida orange groves from areas around Jacksonville and St. Augustine in northeast Florida to Lake and Polk Counties in central Florida to their current dwindling locations in south Florida.
Central Florida's coldest weather ever recorded is generally assumed to be in February of 1835. In Central Florida, the "Day of Freezing Rivers" would not be matched for 150 years. For example, near what later became Jacksonville, the St. Johns River froze 50 feet or more out from the shore as the temperature dropped to 8° F. Inland, at Ft. King (near current-day Ocala) it was 11°. It was such a dramatic and long-lasting cold event that from South Carolina through Georgia and into much of Florida fruit trees were "destroyed, roots and all" as far south as the 28th parallel, which today includes Tampa to Lakeland to Kissimmee to Palm Bay (40 miles south of Cape Canaveral) including most of today's Brevard, Hillsborough, Polk and Osceola counties.
The 1835 freeze lasted a week from February 2-9. In the 1830s there were fewer than 35,000 people in all of Florida, so the relative impact of the freeze was small. By the time of the great freezes of 1894-95 Florida's population had grown exponentially to nearly 500,000 and the pain from the freezes would be widespread and long lasting.
Timeline of Major Florida Freezes
freezes so severe that entire orange groves were wiped out
source Florida Citrus Mutual
The *impact freeze that occurred on February 2-9 brought the lowest temperatures that had ever been recorded in north and central Florida. This freeze is considered an *impact freeze because it ended attempts to commercially grow citrus in South Georgia, southeast South Carolina and in the northern part of Florida.
In Jacksonville, at 8:00 am on the morning of Februrary 2, 1835, the temperature stood at 8°. Along the St. Johns River, the bank water was frozen several rods from the shore and it is reported that Jacksonville citizens were both excited and distressed over this weather anomaly. The 1835 freeze was the basis for all subsequent comparisons until 150 years later, when on January 21, 1985 the temperature fell to 7°F in Jacksonville.
The close proximity of the freezes of 1894 and 1895 created an *impact freeze situation that devastated citrus growers and rearranged the geography of the Florida citrus industry. The first freeze occurred on December 29-30, 1894. Immediately after, Florida experienced a month of warm weather, which made citrus more vulnerable for the second freeze on February 8-9, 1895.
The Big Freeze of 1899
The freeze on February 13-14 was one of the most severe in the history of the state and was a *near-impact freeze. This freeze was unfortunate because it wiped out all of the hard work of growers since the freeze of 1895.
Having rained the entire afternoon and early evening of February 12th, the rain changed to sleet and then later to snow. Jacksonville would actually receive snow for the remainder of the night. By sunrise of the next day, the ground was covered in two inches of snow and the temperature stood around 10°F. The temperature did not rise above 27° all day. The snow remained in some places for up to five days and the vegetable crops, fruit trees and some forest trees were destroyed beyond recovery. The plumbing of the city was badly damaged resulting in two months of repairs throughout the city.
This was the coldest weather since the freeze of 1835,
This freeze occurred on February 2-6 and was the most serious freeze between 1899 and 1934.
This freeze hit Florida on December 12-13. It was so severe that it led to the creation of the Federal-State Frost Warning Service.
January of 1940 is the coldest month on record in Florida history, with a mean temperature of 49.7 degrees Fahrenheit. The freeze occurred at the end of the month on January 27-29, delivering the coldest temperatures growers had seen since 1899. Fortunately, the Frost Warning Service predicted this freeze well in advance.
The 1957 freeze occurred near the end of the year on December 12-13 and was the most severe to hit the state since 1940.
This freeze hit exactly five years (to the day) after the freeze of 1957. The freezing temperatures arrived in Florida on December 12-13, creating the third *impact freeze in the state of Florida. It was considered an *impact freeze because it caused the most damage to trees and fruit of any other 20th century freeze to date.
This freeze occurred on January 18-20 and is comparable to the 1962 freeze. This freeze created the rare conditions in Florida for snow to stick to the ground. The freeze of 1977 also reinforced and accelerated grower movement south.
1980s Freezes Usher in Florida Development
The citrus industry had moved steadily south in the 20th century and in Central Florida had not experienced grove killing freezes in many years prior to the 1980s. To start fresh was a costly and time-consuming process for growers, many of whom didn't have the resources to invest back into their groves after suffering major losses. New trees take at least five years before they are mature enough for production.
From the top of Clermont's Citrus Tower, visitors once gazed out over a vast landscape of groves. Stretching out as far as the eye could see, citrus was king.
But those days were numbered after disastrous freezes in the 1980s, punctuated by the Christmas freeze of 1989, that froze citrus and killed trees. The view from the 226-foot tower began to transform from orange trees to rooftops.
Growers traditionally hadn't sold much of their land to developers because citrus was so profitable. But after the freezes, things changed. Developers jumped at the opportunity to buy land and build subdivisions as metro Orlando continued to expand. The shift pitted developers against those opposed to rapid growth.
Hard freezing temperatures arrived in Florida on January 12-14. This freeze was comparable to the freeze of 1977.
This freeze was more severe than the 1977 and 1981 freezes. It occurred on December 24-25 and was so detrimental because the Frost Warning Service missed the forecast. By the time growers knew about the freeze, much of the damage was already done.
The freeze of 1985 occurred on January 20-22. It was a hard freeze; however, its effects were felt so severely because growers had not yet recovered from the 1983 freeze. The combined effects of the freezes of 1983 and 1985 added up to an *impact freeze situation.
This freeze occurred on December 22-26. This freeze was the fifth *impact freeze recorded in Florida history, however it was the second *impact freeze in a single decade, leaving growers little time to recover after the freezes of 1983 and 1985.
December of 1989 featured several surges of Arctic air into the central and eastern United States beginning around mid month and lasting until Christmas. This Arctic outbreak was a historic event, with many locations establishing monthly or all-time record lows. Sub-freezing temperatures extended across much of the southeast U.S. with considerable damage to citrus crops in Florida and south Texas (newspaper reports indicated "nearly total destruction" of the citrus industry across the north half of Florida).
The cold weather resulted in snow and sleet falling as far south as central Florida just before Christmas, and parts of northern Florida had its first White Christmas on record. As an area of low pressure moved northeast across Florida, the cold weather resulted in the largest snowstorm in history on the southeast U.S. coast, with totals in excess of a foot along the Atlantic coast of North and South Carolina.
*Impact Freeze are a freeze so severe that it annihilates entire groves across the state, killing both mature and young citrus trees, while causing a profound economic impact on the citrus industry and usually prompting growers to replant farther south.
And know that it also snows very rarely in Florida. Above is a timeline of some notable Florida snow events since 1950.