| Palm Beach Post
A collision of frigid Arctic air and warm southern breezes is spreading a white misery through the gut of the U.S. this week, smashing century-old cold records and forcing rolling blackouts in states not accustomed to such winter vigor.
Trapped between the winter storm and high pressure to its east, South Florida stood out like a chili pepper on nationwide temperature maps Monday — a red hot poker amid cooler hues of blues and purples.
The heat, a function of equatorial warmth and moisture being funneled into the Sunshine State, made three Florida cities, including Palm Beach Gardens, the warmest areas in the nation on Sunday when they hit 90 degrees, according to the NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center.
Palm Beach Gardens was ranked warmest city nationwide again Monday when it hit 91 degrees.
In contrast, Kabetogama Lake, Minn., was the coldest area in the country at -45 degrees on Sunday for a 135-degree disparity. Monday’s coldest place nationwide was Silver Bay, Minn. at -36 degrees.
MORE: The day it snowed in South Florida
“The cold air drilled right into the Plains straight south and is bleeding a little to the northeast, but you guys lucked out,” AccuWeather senior meteorologist Tyler Roys said about Florida remaining warm. “You’ll see a cool down over the weekend, but nothing like what’s happening in Texas.”
Snow covered Texas beaches and Dallas shivered in the low teens
West Palm Beach broke a morning heat record Sunday when the temperature dipped to a low of just 75 degrees at Palm Beach International Airport. That’s a notable 16 degrees warmer than normal and 1 degree warmer than the previous record set in 1974. Morning heat records were also tied or broken in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Naples on Sunday.
Monday’s high temperature also broke a record in West Palm Beach as it soared to 88 degrees. That’s 1 degree warmer than the 1944 record and 11 degrees degrees above normal.
MORE: Meteorologists were banking on La Niña but Florida cold fronts keep coming
National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini said the contrasting Arctic air and warm moist air over the Southeast U.S. provided for repetitive storms to form along where the two air masses met. The snow and cold is unusual for many areas in the south including Louisiana, northeast Texas, Arkansas, northern Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky, he said.
By Monday afternoon, snow-covered Gulf Coast beaches in Texas, and Dallas’ high temperature was expected to remain in the low teens. The normal high for Dallas this time of year is in the low 60s.
“I would say this intensity and longevity of the cold temperatures all the way down to coastal Texas is something we haven’t seen since the late 1800s or early 1900s,” said Mike Bettes, an on-camera meteorologist with The Weather Channel. “It is really some extreme stuff we are dealing with.”
Extreme cold came from a warming event that split polar vortex in half
Roys said the extreme cold is part of a domino effect of weather events that started with a sudden stratospheric warming event — the second this year — that split the polar vortex in half. One side came toward the U.S., the other to eastern Europe, Roys said.
MORE: 126 days with temps that feel like 105 degrees? Florida’s heading that way
When the vortex — a counterclockwise spin of air at the top of the world — is strong, cold air stays to the north. When it’s disrupted, it can jostle off the pole, or even break apart, dripping down to lower latitudes. Bettes said the U.S. got a “spoke” of the polar vortex that was pushed farther south by strong Arctic high pressure.
The trailing cold front had Florida’s Panhandle on alert for tornadoes Monday and could bring rowdy thunderstorms to South Florida on Tuesday.
In Texas, wind turbines that provide supplemental power froze, exacerbating electric outages.
“This part of the country, you’re not equipped for this,” said Colleen Russ, a Miami native who has lived in Texas for about 30 years. “People don’t know how to drive, and the infrastructure is not there to do what needs to be done.”
At 10:30 a.m. Monday, it was 5 degrees at Russ’s home near Dallas. Although she was grateful to have electricity, her son wrecked his car skidding on ice, she was taking precautions to keep her pipes from freezing, and she was concerned about her teenage daughter playing in the snow.
“The threat of frostbite is real,” she said. “If it had snowed and it was 30 degrees, that might be OK.”
MORE: It was the coldest morning in two years … and, yes, iguanas and graupel fell from the skies
Beth Widen, an assistant professor at the University of Texas, said on Twitter early Monday her electricity had been off for several hours and it was just 44 degrees in her home. She said she has a 12-month old and 3-year-old in the house.
“You may have people literally opening their garage doors and going into their cars to warm up,” Bettes said. “It truly can be a life-threatening situation and it’s hitting all the major metropolitan areas of Texas.”
Several states, including Texas, Louisiana and Kansas issued disaster declarations. Oklahoma and Arkansas activated National Guard units. Another storm hitting the northwest is expected to take a similar plunging track with more ice and snow mid-week.
MORE: Beware the dangers of ‘super fog’ in winter
So. Florida could see severe weather Tuesday ahead of cool weekend
South Florida is under a marginal threat for severe weather Tuesday with a 30% chance of rain during the day increasing to 60% Tuesday night. Strong winds are the main concern, said National Weather Service meteorologist Shawn Bhatti.
Over the weekend, temperatures could struggle to reach 70 degrees in South Florida with overnights in the 50s or upper 40s following a cold front.
New York resident Claudie Debrunner Valdez cq was walking Monday near Worth Avenue on Palm Beach, a few days into a family vacation. She said she enjoyed the warm temperature, but the humidity has been a little overwhelming. Relative humidity early Monday was 88%.
“Maybe I don’t miss the cold as much as I thought I would,” she said. “In a weird way, the humidity makes me appreciate the cold weather.”
Palm Beach Post reporter Alexandra Clough contributed to this report.
Extreme highs and lows
Nation’s high Sunday
90 degrees: Palm Beach Gardens, Titusville and Brighton
Nation’s low Sunday
Minus 45 degrees: Kabetogama Lake, Minn.
Monday’s record lows
Minus 39: Hibbing/Chisholm, Minn., breaking 1939 record
Minus 33: Valentine, NE, breaking 2007 record
Minus 26: Sioux Falls, SD, breaking 1909 record
Minus 16: Colorado Springs, Colo., breaking 1895 record
Minus 10: Amarillo, Texas, breaking 1895 record
5: Dallas/Forth Worth, Texas, breaking 1909 record
8: Austin, Texas, breaking 1909 record
Source: National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center