Just 40 years ago, the day before President Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as the nation’s 39th president, it snowed in Manatee County in a way that was reminiscent of the “Great Freeze of 1962.”
On Jan. 19, 1977, a “killing cold” blanketed parts of Florida where residents probably thought it could never happen, or where part-timers flocked down to in order to avoid it from the north.
The Bradenton Herald staff writers chronicled the citrus farmers who worried about their chilled crops and the schools that closed due to heating problems and a power shortage. Stories were published about snowbirds being glad they weren’t stuck in a real snowstorm.
The only ones who probably enjoyed the snow were the children who the Bradenton Herald staff photographed enjoying what little snow fell on the ground.
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Yet today, the weather is far from snowy with high of 75 degrees.
Here’s a story that originally ran in the Bradenton Herald’s Local section on Jan. 20, 1977:
Flight of the snowbirds hurts resorts
By Dan Denton, Herald Staff Writer
“All you need to do is bundle up and turn up the car heater, then if the sun happens to shine it’s almost like you were in Florida.”
Mrs. Ruth Netter of Chicago, Ill., was remarkably cheerful Wednesday as she and her husband checked into the Harbor Lights Motel in Bradenton Beach.
There was plenty of room in the inn. They scurried inside the motel office, closed fast the door, and looked outside. Florida, Land of the Sun. Florida, Bright Hope in the Winter of Our Despair. Florida, just keep that door closed!
The sun was blazing, the wind and surf sweeping the shore across Gulf Drive. The heated swimming pool still sent wisps of vapor into the air.
Peter Pirrone, manager of the motel, reflected on the grim fortune of resort owners along the beach. “So you wanna know how’s business? I’ll tell you in a word: cadaveric. You know, like a cadaver. About like it was 20 years ago.”
The motel manager next door had turned the pool heater off. “It’s kind of ridiculous to try to keep anything 80 degrees now,” said the receptionist. “But this guy from Canada breezed in about an hour ago wearing next to night. He said what a lovely day it was. What could I say?”
At the rod and Reel Pier at the island’s north end, would-be fisherman cowered around the indoor fire. Not a line was wet the entire day.
Today’s scheduled chartered deep-sea fishing trip for 61 hopeful fisherman aboard the Admiral was cancelled.
“People who would be chopping holes in the ice up north don’t see any reason to go out if the temperature is under 65,” said Glenn Reynolds, owner of the Admiral — former owner, he added wryly if the persists.
The Anna Maria City Pier was deserted. Prowling about the beach at its base was an elderly woman in a heavy parka and a scarf. She carried a blue plastic pail, full of shells. “It’s 20 below in Ohio,” she said.
Sun-seekers on more exclusive Longboat Key seemed less adventuresome, and resort managers there were filled with gloom.
“I suppose it doesn’t make sense to pay $100 a day to look out the window,” said Jerry Thirion, manager of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort. “People have been checking out, some to go south, but most just go home. It’s the worst winter I’ve ever seen here.”
“It’s disastrous,” said Charles Duffy, manager of the Hilton of Longboat Key. “People who planned to stay for 10 days are throwing up their hands and leaving after three. They figure they might as well go home, where they can at least build a fire.”
“You know, the news media hasn’t helped any,” he added, “showing all these shots of kids throwing snowballs. People forget where they are. They’re here to buy a piece of the sunshine, but no one in his right mind can go outside now.”
The managers of the Longboat Holiday Inn at least had some cause for cheer. That motel has an indoor swimming pool and sauna, which were well-populated Wednesday. Still, guests were leaving early. One man was last seen headed for the Bahamas. He apparently had not heard that the first snow in recorded history fell there Wednesday morning.
The ranks of the tourists seem to fall into two parts — the philosophers and the fugitives. The philosophers figure, well, it’s colder up there, so what can you do? The fugitives flee both north and south.
“We’ve had quite a few more people interested in ski vacations lately,” said Tom Durfee of Manatee Travel Associates. “And Puerto Rico was 86 degrees and sunny Tuesday. We’ve booked a lot of Caribbean cruises.”
Merrie Helsabeck of Continental Travel said it’s been impossible to fill all the requests for flights to the Caribbean and for hotel reservations there. “No requests yet for ski vacations to St. Petersburg,” she confided, “but plenty for New England and the Rockies.”