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Snow On The First Coast

Commentary By WJXT Chief Meteorologist George Winterling

POSTED: 4:06 pm EST December 4, 2003

Snow events are extremely rare for northeast Florida, usually limited to a few flakes or flurries in the air when falling temperatures combine with precipitation-producing clouds.

On most occasions any chance of snow is eliminated as freezing temperatures are usually accompanied by clear skies and dry northerly winds.

George Winterling
Jacksonville's senior meteorologist not only prepares his daily forecasts and monthly garden tips, but also puts some broader thoughts together for a regular column here on News4Jax.com.
About once or twice every decade, cloudy skies are accompanied by temperatures cold enough for a brief episode of snowflakes. Usually, the ground is so warm the snow melts on contact. Only such things as car tops and dry vegetation are cold enough for a fraction of an inch snow to collect.

On Jan. 17, 1977, Jacksonville received a ¼ inch snowfall, St. Augustine ½ inch, and up to 2 inches fell in central Florida at Lakeland and Plant City. On March 2, 1980, ¼ inch of snow coated car tops and patio furniture in Jacksonville, followed by a similar occurrence six years later, on March 1, with a collection of ½ inch, which melted in less than 30 minutes under bright morning sunshine.

Meteorologically for snow to occur this far south, the polar jet stream must dip southward to Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. With a stationary front draped across south Florida, the jet stream must have a cyclonic curve northeastward to feed subfreezing air into the frontal clouds to produce snow over the northern part of the state.

Significant amounts of snow have been recorded only four times over the past two centuries. The earliest was on Jan. 11, 1800, when surveyors along the St. Marys river north of Jacksonville reported 5 inches covering the ground.

Ninety-nine years later, on Feb. 13, 1899, an overnight rain turned to sleet, then snow. Early risers found snow to a depth of 1.9 inches and the temperature a bone-chilling 10 degrees. The coldest temperature on record for Florida occurred that morning when the mercury dropped to -2 degrees at Tallahassee.

Snow in Jax 12-89 #4Fifty-nine years later, on the same date in 1958, an overnight rain turned to snow in Jacksonville. Grassy areas and car tops accumulated snow to a depth of 1½ inches.

But the most paralyzing event occurred two days before Christmas 1989 (pictured, right). A steady light rain and tumbling temperatures caused the rain to turn to freezing rain which made travel over bridges and overpasses impossible.

As the temperature fell to 26 degrees on Dec. 23, the rain turned to sleet, then to snow. The snow did not melt and winds caused snowdrifts several inches deep in some areas.

This was the first white Christmas in Jacksonville's history, the snow lasting in some areas for three or four days.

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