Let It Snow

Let It Snow

Since I’ve lived in Jacksonville for only 19 years, I am too “young” a resident to have seen one of this area’s rare snowfalls. Apparently, there were a couple of light snowfalls reported in 2010, one in January and one in December. They must not have been very memorable because I don’t remember them. And there was an undocumented period of roughly 2 ½ minutes last winter on a particularly cold day when…I swear!…a few flakes came out of the sky.

Florida_SnowOur usual definition of a white Christmas, however, has more to do with white sand than with anything cold and wet. But I bet the majority of the people reading this column recall the time not long ago when Jacksonville had its own really and truly White Christmas. I’ve heard the story many times, but more details about that later.

First, since this is a column that celebrates our city’s history, I’d like to wind the clock back a few hundred years to some notably white moments. Maybe penning these snow stories will encourage some substantial snowflakes to find their way to our area –sort of like, “if you write it, they will come.” I bet a lot of Jacksonville children would be awfully glad if it works!

The first recorded snowstorm on record was in 1774, when the Florida territory experienced what residents called an “extraordinary white rain.” At that time, there were just a few thousand people living in East Florida and West Florida, which were then colonies of Great Britain.

In January of 1800, a land surveyor recorded in notes from his observatory near the mouth of the St. Mary’s River “snow and hail the whole day.” On January 11th, there was an accumulation of five inches, the highest recorded snowfall for the area.

In 1879, there was an ice storm in Jacksonville when it sleeted for about an hour and a half. The main damage was to the local orange crop, when scores of branches broke off trees under the weight of the ice.

Then in February 1899, the Great Blizzard of 1899 dumped snow on the state of Florida for about eight hours. The storm was a result of the Great Arctic Outbreak, a cold wave that pushed Canadian arctic air down all the way to Florida. The Great Blizzard caused accumulations of several inches and a temperature of –2 degrees in Tallahassee, which remains to this day the state’s only recorded sub-zero temperature. Jacksonville got a couple inches of snow, which stayed on the ground for several days.

In February of 1958, an inch and a half of snow was reported in Jacksonville when rain changed to snow. And then, about 25 years ago, the same thing happened again.

Florida_1899Cold and rainy weather on December 23, 1989, suddenly turned into near-blizzard (for Florida, anyway) conditions – a “freak” snowstorm, it was called. All the bridges in town, save the Acosta, were closed. It was two days before Christmas, and traffic became a nightmare as everyone tried to creep around slippery roads and finish everything they needed to do for the holidays.

Friends of mine who lived here at the time remember kids everywhere turning out into driveways and streets, wearing makeshift snow boots and sledding on anything they could get find – boxes, cookie sheets, plastic lids. Holiday snowmen and yard ornaments looked even more festive with a dusting of the real thing. Ice drips hung from palm trees. The quiet of the traffic-less streets and soft snow falling was accented by the sounds of snowball fights and the crunching of people tromping around streets and yards.

The snow actually stuck around through December 25th, resulting in the most recent White Christmas in history. And then, just as quickly as it had come, it melted and was gone.

By Laura Jane Pittman
Resident Community News


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