Saturday, January 1, 2011

Polar bears spotted at Jacksonville Beach & severe season starts sooner than you think!

Saturday, January 1, 2011  1 p.m.

Happy New Year! Here was the scene at Jacksonville Beach this morning. The kids were all smiles and the community came together like never before at the Wave Masters 22nd annual Polar Bear Plunge. This Jacksonville tradition to bring in the New Year with no fear is really growing and catching on. It is not as big as the southern tradition of eating black-eyed peas and collards for good luck to start the New Year but it is getting there. Today you will have to take those black-eyed peas outside and eat them it is so nice!  I believe in really covering stories and the weather to the fullest so I even jumped in the ocean with everybody to make sure I was truly part of the the record turnout this year! The great part is I did not trip and fall on live TV. I knew I had to run fast to keep the pain to a minimum. It was the second straight year I jumped in the ocean head first. This year the water temperatures were 50 degrees which was about 5 degrees colder than last year. But last year was colder since there was a lot of wind and the air temperatures were about 15 degrees colder. The water did take my breath away for a couple seconds, but I noticed I could feel my hands and feet much quicker than last year. They thawed out in a hurry in that brilliant sunshine and 65 degree weather on the sand.

I had the pleasure of meeting Barry and Denise Durden who organized this event for the not-for-profit organization Wave Masters that gives to charities on the First Coast including helping those with disabilities. They had some great T-shirts with original designs for sale to help raise money at this free event. They confirmed the approximately 600 people that braved the cold water was a new record. Back in 1989 or the last time the ocean was this cold for the event there was only about 40 people! They thank you for your support. There were prizes for the oldest participants which was an 81 year old woman and 79 year old man. The kids were not to be outdone. We had 4 year old girls and a 5 year old boy. The other prizes were for those that traveled the farthest from abroad. This year we had plungers from China and South Korea! Last year we had guests from South Africa! I look forward to taking part in this fine Jacksonville tradition to bring in the New Year with no fear next year. I am going for three in a row but I know it will be a lot tougher.

New Year's Days do not come along like this very often. As of 1 p.m. it is already 75 degrees and my forecast high of 78 looks to be on track. Even out at Jacksonville Beach on the sand it will be in the 70s despite the chilly waters. The all-time record high for New Year's Day in Jacksonville is 81 so we will not be far from it! I say a beach walk is a perfect way to bring in the New Year and you can see our first sunrise on the beach this year was spectacular!

Unfortunately, when we get this warm this time of year it usually means there is a big mid-latitude cyclone to our west or a strong storm system. Sure enough there is and as nice as it is here at home we do have our thoughts and prayers with the six people that have lost their lives with the second biggest tornado New Year's Eve severe weather outbreak across Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri and even as far north as Illinois. Check out the more than 100 storm reports which included 27 tornadoes. This is a reminder that SEVERE WEATHER SEASON IS HERE in the SOUTH and it gets started not in February like all the text books tell you but in fact January.  Our real severe weather season is January through March and it peaks in February and early March. If you live in Indiana the peak of tornado season does not arrive until late May through early July. In Wisconsin and Minnesota severe weather peaks from July through September. It has to do with the jet stream. This time of year the jet stream spawns severe weather and causes thunderstorms to rotate makes it farther south. This means we have stronger cold fronts that collide with our warm Florida paradise. This collision can have devastating effect like we saw in Arkansas yesterday. Every year there are at least a couple days in Florida with severe weather in January and today could be one of them.

The Florida Panhandle has a tornado watch but if there is good news for areas near Eglin Air Force Base and Destin it is this storm system is now weakening and we are going more from a tornado threat to a wind threat. The powerful jet stream that spun up those super cells near Cincinnati, Arkansas with wind speeds of EF-3 or near 140 mph have now been lifted north as the front has moved east. There is still a 60 mph low-level jet stream along the front so maybe a brief weak tornado could touch down in southwest Georgia but otherwise I think Florida will be okay including us.

Tonight at 6:00, 6:30, and 11:00 I will tell you why we will have to keep our eyes to the sky with Jackonville's only Live Doppler Radar. We will zoom in on the latest storms moving our way. There could be a few rumbles of thunder in our viewing area tonight and another line of scattered showers and a few thunderstorms later on Sunday. I would not cancel plans and not everybody will see rain but we will take a look at the latest severe weather indices and how much rain you can expect here at home. Every little bit helps in an extreme drought. I will also keep you updated as well here on the blog.  For now though it is back to seeing my family and running out in the sun before I head back to work. Thanks for reading and enjoy the great weather and football. Those folks in town from Michigan are telling me they do not want to go back to all that cold and snow. Yes, we may have a few extra residents here on the First Coast in the near future. Enjoy your chamber of commerce weather.

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