Five times Florida saw snow in March

What it takes to bring snow to the Sunshine State

Beach snowman, uh, sandman
Beach snowman, uh, sandman

Winter in Florida isn’t so bad, right?

As relatives in northern states complain of shoveling snow, Floridians have a saying about winter in the South: “You don’t have to shovel sunshine.”

March is especially nice. So much so, many people flock to the sunshine state for spring break. This past week with record-breaking heat is a prime example of why tourists come here to thaw out. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t snow in Florida. It has even happened in March from time to time.

What’s needed for snow?

Snow requires two specific weather conditions to form: low temperatures and moisture in the atmosphere. Florida has plenty of moisture given the subtropical environment, but it’s usually the lack of cold temperatures that keeps snow at bay.

In order for snow to fall the air has to be at freezing, 32 degrees Fahrenheit, or below. Ground temperatures at or below freezing will allow for some to accumulate, but even if the ground isn’t cold enough, snow can still fall it will just melt pretty quickly.

What happens is the precipitation can fall through layers of cold and warm air. The more cold layers there are, the better the chance of seeing winter precipitation.

This is illustrated in the picture below.

This shows what's needed for different types of precipitation to fall. (WKMG)

Sometimes what starts off as ice hits too much warm air and all residents in the sunshine state get is rain.

March 1, 1986, was interesting, to say the least.

A shortwave trough showed up on weather models at the end of February that looked like it was on the way to Florida ahead of spring breakers. By NWS definition, a shortwave trough is a mid or upper-level disturbance in the atmosphere that induces an upward motion ahead of it which can lead to thunderstorm development if conditions are favorable.

Nearing the end of winter, it’s possible to see this happen, but Florida is usually just too warm. The average high temperature for March, from 1892 to the present, is 78 degrees. The average low is around 55 degrees. The record for the coolest high temperature was set on March 9, 1989, when the high for the day only got up to 47 degrees. The coolest it has been during the day in more recent years was March 18, 2005, with a high of 60.

Monthly norms and highs provided by NWS Melbourne office. (NWS)

That doesn’t mean this subtropical environment doesn’t get cold at night in March. That’s when snow has a chance to fall given the right conditions.

The record low temperature for the entire month was set on March 3, 1980, with a low of 25 degrees.

The coldest overnight lows are usually within the first week or so of March and they coincide with some of the years there was snow falling.

Going back to March 1, the shortwave dug far enough south that in the pre-dawn hours going into the weekend, around half an inch of snow fell and stuck around. Most people were in bed asleep, but early birds were in for a treat. That Saturday morning the palms were dusted white, but it didn’t stick around long. Most of Jack Frost’s work was melted once the sun started to come up.

Another example of Florida getting a taste of winter was March 2, 1980. Meteorologists with the National Weather Service recorded a quarter of an inch of snow in Jacksonville. The accumulations were seen on patio furniture and the tops of cars.

Falling into the first week of March, in 1954, four inches of snow was recorded at Milton Experimental Station located in the panhandle. According to their records, that amount of snow was the highest total for Florida within a 24-hour period.

The ’93 Superstorm was another strong weather maker that did quite a bit of damage across the southeastern United States. The system brought heavy rain, strong wind gusts and even caused coastal issues for the state. The eastern seaboard was devastated. Nearly ten million people and a substantial number of businesses lost power.

For Florida, not pictured below, the superstorm produced up to four inches of snow along the panhandle. That storm brought so much destruction to the southeast, it was deemed the Storm of the Century.

March 12-15, 1993: Causing 300 deaths and up to $10 billion in damages, the "Storm of the Century" lived up to its hype. The storm affected at least 26 states and much of eastern Canada, reaching as far south as Jacksonville, Fla.

The latest Florida has recorded snowfall was March 28, 1955. An inch of snow accumulated in Marianna, which is also located in the panhandle.


About the Author:

Emmy Award Winning Meteorologist Samara Cokinos joined the News 6 team in September 2017. In her free time, she loves running and being outside.