Before it warms up, ‘very, very cold’

Relief from the Great Florida Freeze of 2010 is drawing near, but the sweaters and boots will have to stay out of our closets awhile longer.

After waking up to freezing or near-freezing temperatures today, Tampa Bay area residents can expect sunshine and highs to reach the upper 40s, forecasters said. But overnight lows will dip right back into the 30s or lower.

A gradual warm-up is expected after Monday. By the end of the week, temperatures should inch back up into the mid-to-upper 60s.

Saturday, however, offered sleet and perhaps a handful of snow flurries falling on parts of the Tampa Bay area. A cold rain soaked the rest, including Manatee.

But was it snow or sleet? The official ruling was, so to speak, mushy.

“We’re saying it was mostly sleet,” said Nicole Carlisle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin. “I think we had a couple of snow flurries mixed in there in Pasco, but the rest was sleet.”

Saturday night’s bitter cold sent many of Manatee’s homeless in search of shelter.

Numbers at the Salvation Army on 14th Street West were up compared to nights earlier in the week.

“We’re packed in,” an employee said.

How cold was it? At 10 p.m., the thermometer at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport read 34 degrees. Wind chill: 27.

Another freeze warning is expected for the entire region tonight.

“It’s certainly going to be cold,” Carlisle said, “... very, very cold.”

But don’t expect any of the white stuff.

Such sightings Saturday prompted the weather service to issue a statement saying “this is the first time snow and/or sleet has occurred in West Central Florida since Jan. 8, 1996, when it was reported in areas from Crystal River south to around New Port Richey. Otherwise, the immediate Tampa Bay area has not seen snow and/or sleet since Dec. 23, 1989.” The latter date was the last time Manatee saw snow.

Bay News 9 meteorologist Brian McClure said the Bay area came extremely close to seeing something really impressive, McClure said.

The air from 2,000 feet to 10,000 feet early Saturday was 33 degrees — and if it had been 32 degrees, all the rain that fell Saturday would have been snow instead, he said.

“You would have seen snow all morning instead of light rain showers, and that alone would have been just amazing to people,” he said

In Manatee, ‘this is warm’

What got folks out Saturday in Manatee? An outdoor wedding, of course.

Michael Mask and Jaimie Perez, of Sarasota, opted for a balmy outdoor ceremony with about 150 guests at Palmetto Riverside Bed and Breakfast.

“She wanted a winter wedding and she’s getting it,” said Susan Lina, Michael’s aunt down from Buffalo, N.Y., with her husband Bruce.

“When we left Buffalo, it was 16 degrees,” Susan said. “This is warm.”

A short walk away at Regatta Pointe Marina, Scotland native Julian Thompson didn’t seem to mind the cold, either.

“This is a fine, crisp day,” said Thompson, now a Palmetto resident, who was joined by his Scottish Terrier Bramble and West Highland White Terrier Thistle.

At around 4:30 p.m., Thompson appeared to be the only boat owner at the marina. Dressed in short sleeves, he was checking out the heat pump on his sailboat, Talulah Brae.

Over at G.T. Bray park in Bradenton, Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School eighth-graders Lauren Biach and Haley Farr were enjoying the weather, too.

“I feel like I’m in a different state,” said Haley, as the friends took a leisurely stroll.

Lauren appreciated the uniqueness of the cold: “It doesn’t fit the context with the flowers and the palm trees.”

Andre Rios, of Bradenton, wasn’t as keen of the raw day. He had just wrapped up a 7-on-7 soccer game at the park with friends. They play just about every day, but this time was different.

“This is a little bit out of the normal, but we love to play, so we’ll play in any weather,” the Panama native said.

Must-have stone crabs

Liz Cashen, of Bradenton, and her aunt, Ann Fenwick, who was visiting from Baltimore, ventured out Saturday night to get stone crab claws at Star Fish Co. market in Cortez.

“You can get them in Baltimore, but not that often,” Fenwick said.

Their plans for the rest of the night? Rent a movie — and stay indoors and eat those stone crabs.

What do the stone crabs think of the cold? Bundled-up market worker Chris Burns said they’re more active in cooler waters.

“It has the mullet running and the crabs crawling,” he said.

But, as for Burns . . .

“It’s cold, man,” the Bradenton Beach native said. “You gotta layer up.”

— Herald News Editor Brent Conklin, Herald Staff Writer Beth Burger, The St. Petersburg Times and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Related stories from Bradenton Herald