In a rare occurrence that took place over 40 years ago, snowfall graced the southern regions of Florida, marking an unprecedented event in its recorded history, as reported by the National Weather Service (NWS). The momentous occasion unfolded on January 19, 1977, its significance even eclipsing the inauguration of then-President Jimmy Carter. The NWS disclosed that snowflakes were witnessed across Southeast Florida, spanning locales such as Miami Beach, West Palm Beach, LaBelle, Homestead, and Hollywood. Astonishingly, reports even emerged of snow reaching as far south as the Bahamas.
The NWS highlighted that while snowfall in Florida is not as infrequent as commonly believed, the southernmost observation of snow prior to this event had been along a line stretching from Fort Myers to Fort Pierce back in February 1899. The occurrence of snow in the Sunshine State can be attributed to a robust Arctic cold front that surged from Mississippi, ushering in frigid temperatures and snowfall across nearly every corner of northern and central Florida.
On the morning of January 19, rain intermingled with the snowflakes, resulting in flurries cascading over Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Nevertheless, it was reported that Miami International Airport did not record any snowfall. Although the air temperature in South Florida remained above freezing, the low altitude prevented the flurries from fully melting before reaching the ground, as elucidated in the NWS release.
The subsequent day witnessed a drastic drop in temperatures due to the frigid air and reduced wind speeds. Temperatures either reached or dipped below the freezing point across most of South Florida. Various locations experienced record-breaking low temperatures, including LaBelle at 21°F, Devil’s Garden at 23°F, Homestead Agricultural Center at 23°F, Immokalee at 24°F, Belle Glade at 24°F (setting an all-time low), Moore Haven at 25°F, North Miami Beach at 25°F, Naples at 26°F (also setting an all-time low), Palm Beach International Airport at 27°F, Clewiston at 27°F, Flamingo at 27°F, Fort Lauderdale at 28°F (setting an all-time low), Hollywood at 28°F, Miami International Airport at 31°F, and Miami Beach at 32°F (another all-time low).
The prolonged duration of sub-freezing temperatures lasting between 10 to 14 hours in some parts of South Florida resulted in catastrophic consequences for local farms. Precious crops such as tangerines, oranges, and corn were decimated, leading to the declaration of disaster areas in 35 counties throughout Florida.
The severity of the cold spell was further exemplified by the formation of ice on certain roads within Miami-Dade County. As a precautionary measure, the Florida Highway Patrol issued advisories cautioning drivers about the presence of ice-covered roads.
Despite these extraordinary circumstances, the question arises as to whether such an event could recur. News 6 Chief Meteorologist Tom Sorrels addressed this query by stating, “With the warming we have experienced in the last few decades, the chance of a repeat is slim. However, part of the climate changing is that we not only get ‘Global Warming’ — we get ‘Global Weirdness.’ Wild swings, heavy precipitation, crazy swings of the jet stream… With that kind of action, most anything is possible.”
Looking back at this remarkable phenomenon, it remains an indelible part of Florida’s weather history. While the likelihood of witnessing snowfall in the region again may be remote, the memory of that fateful day in 1977 continues to captivate the imagination, serving as a reminder of the unpredictability and idiosyncrasies of our climate.