'Come on down,' says Manatee booster, 'Christmas will be fine'

Manatee residents, guests can expect beautiful, dry and cool holiday weather

rdymond@bradenton.comDecember 21, 2013 

MANATEE -- When Elliott Falcione heard the Christmas weather reports from up north and for Manatee County this week he rubbed his hands together like a mad scientist.

Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau for the past three and a half years, knows that when the weather is miserable in Chicago and New York, people start planning to escape to sunny Florida.

"Beautiful Bradenton is the only place to come for the holidays," Falcione, the county's most unabashed promoter, said Friday.

Actually, Falcione knows that nowadays, the success of winter tourism in the county transcends weather.

On Friday, he said that Manatee County's tourist economy has become sustaining over the past winters due to European visitors and sports well as the traditional warm weather, which, once again will be very nice for 2013's Christmas day, with dry, cool, and partly cloudy skies, according to the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

"Nowadays, every August through January, you have Brits, Germans and other Europeans coming into our area and staying one to three weeks at a time," Falcione said Friday. "We also now supplement our European visitors with a sports segment. We had major soccer tournaments at Lakewood

Ranch and IMG in early December and the Eddie Herr tennis tournament. We also now have an influx of people from the state of Florida because kids are out of school and they want to come to our beaches.

"So, these days, we are sustaining business in November and December," Falcione added. "You can't say business drops off anymore. We have been on a vertical projection for tourism dollars, in fact the entire west coast of Florida has, for the past three seasons."

Falcione can back up his 'Come on down' cry to up north residents with solid meteorological evidence this year.

While the rest of the country battles freezing rain and snow, Saturday and Sunday before Christmas will be nothing less than spectacular in Manatee, said Richard Rude, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

Both days will feature blue skies and afternoon temperatures in the mid-to-upper 80s, excellent for a beach outing, although the water temperature will be in the upper 60s.

Monday and Tuesday will see a trend toward slightly cooler and partly cloudy skies with chances of showers due to a cold front, Rude said.

"A cold front will move into northern Florida on late Monday afternoon and Monday evening and slowly move down across west Central Florida during the early part of Tuesday, and across South Florida Tuesday night," Rude said.

Christmas Day will dawn with temperatures in the upper 40s inland to lower 50s near the coast and will warm to the mid-70s, Rude said.

"We forecast no chance of precipitation on Christmas Day," Rude added. "Christmas night will be mid-50s inland and upper 60s near the coast."

For those planning to boat on Christmas Day, the wind will be 20 to 25 knots from the northeast, Rude said.

"Boaters should exercise caution Tuesday and Wednesday," Rude said.

Overall in the United States, a record number of people are expected to be on the road for the holidays, said Jessica Brady, a spokeswoman for AAA, the Tampa-based Auto Club Group.

"We are looking at 94.5 million Americans to taking a trip, whether flying, driving or hopping on a plane," Brady said.

2013 will be the fifth year in the row that Christmas and New Year travel will show an increase, Brady added.

The Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport expects 35,000 passengers from Dec. 21-28, said Rick Piccolo, the airport's president and chief executive officer.

"We are doing about 5,000 passengers a day," Piccolo said. "I wouldn't say it is close to a record but it's consistent with what we see when all of our flights are full."

The airport once did 50,000 passengers a week and 200,000 passengers a month during holiday periods back when it had more flights, Piccolo said.

Although he is not filled for Christmas, Jeffrey Gerry, co-owner of The White Sands Beach Resort, 6504 Gulf Drive, and Tropical Breeze Beach Club, 6802 Gulf Drive, both in Holmes Beach, expects that will change after the first of the year.

"We had a last-minute Christmas cancellation from a couple in Texas where broken pipes caused by the bad weather caused flooding in their home," Gerry said.

Gerry's Christmas business is 10 percent off what it was last year. But he thinks that things will start catching up beginning next year when the Christmas rush is over and the cold sinks in.

"I also honestly feel part of the reason we are off a bit is not just the economy and bad weather up north but that it feels Christmas came fast this year and people are still shopping," Gerry said. "I do think when the cold weather hits after Christmas our phones will start ringing."

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.

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