Cold Weather Hazards: Freezes and Wind Chill

Despite the fact that South Florida enjoys a generally warm, sub-tropical climate, extremely cold temperatures are still possible.

A recent study revealed that from 1979 to 1999, 124 people in Florida died from the cold, not including those who have perished in house fires started by space heaters, or from other secondary causes.  Numerous deaths usually occur during brief cold snaps, such as in December 1989 when 26 Floridians died from hypothermia.

Freezing Temperatures. Because of normally mild temperatures, Florida homes often lack adequate heating and insulation. Also, the Florida outdoor lifestyle can lead to danger for those not prepared for freezing temperatures. In addition, freezing temperatures in South Florida can cause widespread damage to sensitive plants and crops. Fortunately, overnight temperatures rarely drop below freezing in South Florida, especially along the coasts. Inland areas are more susceptible to below freezing temperatures, primarily during the middle part of January. In addition, inland sections of the metropolitan areas are more likely to experience freezing temperatures than coastal areas.

Wind Chill is the term used to describe the rate of heat loss on the human body resulting from the combined effect of cold temperature and wind. As winds increase, heat is carried away from the body at a faster rate, driving down both the skin temperature and eventually the internal body temperature. While exposure to low wind chills can be life threatening to both humans and animals alike, the only effect that wind chill has on inanimate objects, such as vehicles, is that it shortens the time that it takes the object to cool to the actual air temperature (it cannot cool the object down below that temperature).

The National Weather Service issues wind chill advisories when the wind chill is forecast to be 35°F or less and the wind is forecast to be above 5 mph.

Freeze warnings will be issued when temperatures are forecast to be below 32°F within the next 24 hours. A hard freeze warning will be issued if the temperature is expected to be below 28°F for at least three hours. Hard freezes occur in rural areas in the interior of South Florida about once every ten years, and less frequently along coastal metropolitan areas.

Although there is no special advisory for frost, it will be mentioned in the public forecast if it is expected. With adequate low level moisture and calm wind, frost may occur at temperatures as warm as the mid 30s.

Take precautions for cold weather and remember to check on the elderly or physically impaired family members, as well as pets, friends, and neighbors.


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