The Day it Snowed in Florida
The winter of 1976-1977 was one of the coldest on record for much of the Eastern US, averaging around 5 degrees below normal. January, 1977 was one of the coldest months with over 60 cities reporting their coldest or second coldest January on record!
The months between October and February saw a prevailing very large and deep Aleutian low that covered much of the North Pacific Ocean. This created a stronger than normal upper-level ridge over western North America and a deep upper-level trough over the East. Extremely cold air was allowed to move southward from the Arctic across the eastern and central US breaking all kinds of records including snow falling across Florida as far south as Homestead, Fl some 23 miles south of Miami!
The four day period between January 17th and 20th saw an extraordinary outbreak of cold air that reached far south into Florida. At the time, a strong high pressure ridge prevailed over the Mississippi Valley. A deep low that developed off of Cape Hatteras on the 15th moved to the Gulf of St. Lawrence by the 18th. This was followed by a clipper type low that moved rapidly eastward across the Great Lakes with a secondary low forming over the Carolinas along the trailing cold front moving eastward and deepening off the Southeast US coast on the 19th which pushed bitterly cold air from the Hudson Bay area directly southward to the Gulf States and into the Caribbean.
500MB Chart Jan 19th 1977
As the frontal trough moved southward, the residents of the Florida Panhandle were the first to see snow receiving 1-2 inches on January 18th along with very cold gusty northwesterly winds. As the frontal trough moved farther south that day nearly all locations in north and central Florida reported some snow or snow flurries.
NOAA NWS Daily Weather Map January 19, 1977
Tampa recorded its greatest snow accumulation to date: with 0.2 inches officially reported at the airport. Farther inland, Lakeland reported 1.0 inches and an unofficial 2 inch accumulation was reported in Plant City.
Photo Credit: University of South Florida, Tampa
Over South Florida West Palm Beach reported snow falling for the first time on record. Snow was also reported at the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport and even Homestead, 23 miles south of Miami reported snow flakes falling.
Picture Courtesy of Charles Trainor/Miami Herald
Icy highways caused hundreds of accidents and portions of Florida's Interstate Highway system were forced to close due to the poor traction on the freezing surfaces. President Carter declared 35 Florida counties disaster areas. The U. S. Department of Agriculture reported 35 % of the citrus crop, over 95% of all vegetables and 50-75% of commercial flowers lost. It is estimated the freeze cost the Florida economy $2 billion (1977) dollars.
South Florida Minimum Temperatures
Plant City 22
Fort Myers 30
Ft Lauderdale 28
Naples fell 26
West Palm Beach 27
Miami Beach 32
Miami Airport 31