Floridians brace for Arctic blast over holiday weekend

Beachgoers face the sun on Fort Lauderdale beach, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. While most of the country is under severe cold weather warning, South Florida's high temperature peaked in the mid 80's. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier) (Marta Lavandier, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Floridians on Friday braced for unusually chilly weather as rare freeze warnings were issued for large parts of the state ahead of the holiday weekend.

The National Weather Service said an Arctic blast was heading for Florida on Friday, followed by a holiday weekend with some of the coldest temperatures of the season.

“We’re dreaming of a cold Christmas... said no Floridian ever,” the National Weather Service in Melbourne, Florida tweeted Friday.

In the Florida Panhandle, temperatures were expected to drop to the teens and 20s degrees Fahrenheit. Wind gusts also were expected to reach up to 45 miles per hour (72.4 km per hour), and there were some reports of downed trees Friday morning, according to the National Weather Service in Tallahassee.

“Secure those holiday decorations!" the weather service tweeted.

In central Florida, temperatures were expected to drop to near or below freezing. The last time there was a freeze in Orlando was almost five years ago, though nearby communities reached freezing last January, according to the weather service.

Florida is the primary supplier of fresh fruits and vegetables for the rest of the country during the winter, and growers were harvesting as much of their crops as possible ahead of the cold front. In the state's midsection, where blueberries, strawberries and blackberries are grown, growers planned to use overhead irrigation to spray a protective coat of ice around the fruit.

“We are well into Florida’s winter growing season, and fruit and vegetable growers around the state have been preparing around the clock in advance of this weekend’s cold weather," Christina Morton, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, said in an email.

South Floridians were on watch for falling iguanas over the weekend. The cold-blooded reptiles that reside in Miami suburbs typically become immobilized when temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 Celsius degrees). The temperature in Miami on Friday morning, though, was above 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21.1 Celsius degrees), allowing vacationers one last gasp of beach weather before having to don their winter coats.