Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Snow ... in Florida?

While watching Bay News 9 and chief meteorologist Mike Clay giving the weather almanac for Wednesday, 19 January 2011 something rang a bell in my mind: On 19 January 1977 snow fell in Florida with snowflakes being seen as far south as Homestead.

That reminded me of an event that took place on Interstate 275 on that same date: The Howard Frankland Bridge was closed due to ice. Back in those days the Howard Frankland was just a single four-lane span and commuting between St. Petersburg and Tampa was a challenge. We only had three TV stations back then - WFLA Channel 8 (which has been the Tampa Bay area's NBC affiliate since 1955), WTSP Channel 10 (which was an ABC affiliate, now a CBS affiliate) and WTVT Channel 13 (which was a CBS affiliate, now a Fox Owned and Operated station) - that we could get our news from but only certain times of the day, compared to today where you could flip on Bay News 9 (if you're a Bright House Networks subscriber), get your weather and traffic, and be on your way.

However, Florida's roads and bridges were not designed for travel during periods of icy weather unlike other states, where winter weather is the norm and roads have to be deiced. On a bridge, the hazard from ice is much greater as you are on a concrete deck and there is no room for error; this was the case with the original Howard Frankland Bridge as there were no emergency shoulders on the original bridge prior to its refurbishment as the northbound lanes of Interstate 275 in 1992, a year after the new 1991 southbound lanes opened.

Back on that day in January 1977 when it snowed in Florida, the Florida Highway Patrol did not want to take any chances with motorists on a narrow, 4-lane bridge crossing Tampa Bay which was known for a lot of accidents. As such, the Howard Frankland was closed to traffic making commuting between St. Petersburg and Tampa very difficult.

Now I would like to find out where you were in the Tampa Bay area on 19 January 1977 when it snowed in Florida and you had to either find another way to St. Petersburg or Tampa crossing Tampa Bay or you had to stay home because the Howard Frankland Bridge was closed due to ice. I do remember the memories very well, and that weather almanac on Bay News 9 jogged my memory.

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