MIAMI (CBS4) – No matter where you live in the US, this winter has given all of us the cold shoulder. From California blizzards, to Midwest whiteouts, to sleet across the southeast, and frigid Nor’easters along the eastern seaboard, it’s been anything but a winter wonderland.
Even in South Florida, we’ve seen some of the coldest weather in decades or longer. December broke record average lows from Palm Beach to Key West, and many of us found heavy frost on the car that forced us to scrape the windshield before we drove to work.
But even as we chipped away at the ice, we took some comfort in knowing that while we shivered, the rest of the country hunkered down under a foot of snow, something we here in South Florida simply don’t have to worry about.
Or do we?
January 19th, 1977. People looked up, and could not believe their eyes. There, in the Sun and Fun Capital of the World, snowflakes were falling from the sky.
They fell on Miami Beach. They fell in the Everglades. In fact, they fell as far away as the Bahamas.
Those who lived through it call it the Great Blizzard of ’77. In actuality, it was a freak dusting of flakes that found the ground and promptly disappeared, but not before people tried to make snowballs, attempted anemic snowmen, or simply put tongue to flake and gave it a taste.
It was gone almost before it started, but it was historic.
According to the National Weather Service, which has tracked snow in Florida since 1800, the white stuff has fallen in the state 40 times before the current century, mostly in the Panhandle and North Florida. Tampa, midway down the peninsula, has had snow reported a number of times.
This century, there have even 14 snow ‘events’ in the state, with 2010 setting a record with 8 snow events.
Some people even claim to have seen flurries in West Palm Beach and Kendall when the mercury dropped to freezing, but there’s no proof we had anything but a heavy frost.
In 1977, it was so apparent the event made headlines. Never before was snow seen here, officially, and never since.
So how did it happen? A Nor’easter over Atlantic Canada sent very cold temperatures southward into the state. Areas around Pensacola were the first to receive the snow. Orlando and Tampa received light accumulations of about 1-2″. By early on January 19, West Palm Beach reported snow for the first time on record, with snow flurries reaching as far south as Homestead.
The snow was no problem. However, it was so cold agriculture took tremendous losses, and Floridians unaccustomed to the cold huddled in misery in their chilly homes.
On January 20, the snowfall was front page news with a huge “end of the world” headline, as tourism officials downplayed the event as a freak of nature that didn’t last.
It was likely a once-in-a-lifetime event, just one of the many bizarre stories that make South Florida such an interesting place to live. Could it happen again? Based on the number of snow events last year, the chance seems more and more likely.
Snow way to be sure.