News Column

Polar Vortex Plunges Florida Into the Freezer

January 6, 2014

Arelis R. Hernández, Orlando Sentinel

Jan. 06--A giant polar air mass descending upon much of the country is fast approaching Central Florida, sending air temperatures tumbling more than 50 degrees to sub-freezing temperatures by sunrise on Tuesday.

The first bite of cold will be felt about 2 p.m. when meteorologists expect the mercury to begin falling and the winds to shift to the northwest shooting Arctic air down the Florida Peninsula.

Tonight's low could break records but the bigger story will not be read on a thermometer but felt by Central Floridians adjusting to the bitter wind chills that will make it feel 10 degrees colder.

"In a matter of 16 hours, it will be dropping 50 degrees and that's significant anywhere," said National Weather Service meteorologist Amanda Bowen in Melbourne. "We are going from above normal to well-below normal temperatures in less than 24 hours."

The high temperature today reached 80 but by tonight forecasters expect it to plummet to near 30 -- two degrees shy of a record 28 set in 2010. Lunch can be taken outside but by the evening, residents will want a heavy coat before venturing into the elements.

Add the wind, and Central Floridians are in for the most frigid weather experienced since last March, Bowen said. It has generated freeze, wind chill and lake wind advisories for most of the region lasting until Tuesday morning.

The polar vortex to blame for the sudden cold snap is a mass of cold air that typically dips south and settles over the northern U.S. in brief spurts during the winter months.

What's significant about this front, according to meteorologists, is how far south its reach extends and how wide its effects will be felt across the country.

"It's not unheard of to get this cold. It happens at least once a year," Bowen said. "[Temperatures] won't drop 10 degrees in five minutes but they will drop steadily throughout the rest of the day."

By the time 5 p.m. arrives, temperatures will be in the low to mid-50s. By sunset, it will be about 40.

Winds will drive a shiver through the bones at 15 to 20 mph with even higher gusts, forecasters said.

Overnight, anything left outside could suffer. Forecasters warn residents should cover cold-sensitive plants and bring in pets, particularly for those living in Lake and inland Volusia counties. It will too dry for frost.

It will be coldest about 7 a.m. just before sunrise about 20 minutes later, Bowen said.

For the homeless, downtown shelters will be open both Monday and Tuesday night to all seeking shelter regardless of space, according to Muffet Robinson of the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.

At home, families should prepare and make arrangements for vulnerable members of the community such as the elderly that may be inadequately protected from the cold.

Duke Energy spokesman Sterling Ivey said the company is ready to handle the uptick in usage over the next few days but customers should prepare for outages due to stress on power lines or transformers.

"We don't get the cold weather that often but we know that when it happens customers have concerns about being comfortable without seeing energy bills go up," said Orlando Utility Commission spokesperson Erika Hodges.

She suggested customers keep thermostats at 68 and add a blanket or sweater because for every degree over that mark, "you can expect a 3-5 percent increase in heating costs for the day."

Opening blinds and drapes during warm hours and shutting them at night could help contain the heat.

"We are not anticipating any brown-outs but we are monitoring our system and are ready to respond," Hodges said.

Energy demands should be short-lived as temperatures rise slightly on Tuesday and bounce back to normal levels on Wednesday.

Although it will be mostly sunny tomorrow, the high won't eclipse 50 degrees, meteorologists said. Wind chills could be as low 20 early and remain low during the day with wind gusts. The low will be around 37.

On Wednesday, much of Central Florida will be back in the upper 60s with lighter winds.

arehernandez@tribune.com or 407-420-5471 or @ahernandez_OS

Cold-weather tips

--Bring potted plants inside or group them close to the house.

--Cover outdoor plants with fabric, such as a bedsheet, and secure it so it doesn't blow away.

--Do not water plants at night.

--Harvest citrus only when the temperature drops below 27 degrees for at least four hours.

--Keep space heaters at least 3 feet from flammable objects.

--Follow manufacturer's recommendations for heaters and electric blankets.

--Open fireplace flues, douse embers and store them in a sealed metal container.

--Do not use an oven or grill to heat your home.

--Let pets inside.

SOURCES: Orange County Extension Education Center, Orange County Fire Rescue

For more cold weather tips go to OUC.com

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(c)2014 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Original headline: Polar air mass to plunge Central Florida into sub-freezing conditions



Source: (c)2014 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)


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