National News

On the job and in the shelters, Tampa Bay adjusts to a cold spell that's getting colder

Posted January 2, 2018 8:57 p.m. EST

New Year's Day is usually a busy time for a movie theater.

But that wasn't the case in Carrollwood on Monday night.

"It got really cold," said Maira Linares, assistant manager at Villagio Cinemas. "No one wanted to leave home."

People are adjusting in a number of ways with nighttime temperatures expected to dip near freezing through New Year's week. Visitors and residents alike are looking for fun indoors, farmers are protecting crops, and shelter operators are hitting the road to advertise that they're open.

Even midmorning Tuesday, long after the sun had come up, the temperature in Tampa was 43 degrees -- the same as the temperature in Anchorage, Alaska, noted a tweet from 10Weather WTSP meteorologist Grant Gil­more.

In Plant City, New Hope?@?the Cornerstone was expecting to shelter around 24 people on Monday night but ended up with just six. So two volunteers drove a van to spots where homeless people usually congregate and yelled out that they had a warm shelter available. No one answered.

"We were worried," outreach director Jennifer Anderson said. "We will be out again today spreading the word."

Anderson hopes the estimated 25 tents and 45 wool blankets New Hope handed out this winter are going to good use, too.

Monday also was slower than expected at a shelter opened in the Brandon Community Center and for the Samaritan Project of Zephyrhills, which helps the homeless find warm lodging.

"We had concern so we had trouble sleeping," Samaritan's Paul Bathrick said. "There are families we reached out to who didn't answer their phones."

Bathrick couldn't explain the low turnout on a night when temperatures fell to 37 degrees in Zephyrhills, 12 degrees below normal for Jan. 1.

Perhaps homeless people stayed with family, found temporary shelter in places such as laundromats, slept in cars or didn't believe the forecast low.

"But this morning our phones have been ringing off the hook," Bathrick said. "We'll place everyone somewhere warm."

There was no mistaking the cold weather along Pinellas County beaches Tuesday.

"Usually people are walking by here all day," said Charlie Indingaro, a volunteer at the St. Petersburg office of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce on Gulf Boulevard. "Today, nobody. They are all staying snuggled up inside their hotels."

If anyone does stop by, Indingaro will provide directions to museums or to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

They can join the crowd at the aquarium.

"The cold weather is definitely helping to drive attendance," aquarium spokeswoman Julia Anderson said.

The staff there is also busy ensuring that the residents, many of them rescued and undergoing rehabilitation, stay warm in the unusual cold.

Animals of the pet variety should be fine going outdoors for short periods of time, said Lori Letzring with Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center. Some animals, though, especially cats, just won't leave the porch or the yard.

In those cases, Letzring said, they'll need plenty of blankets away from the wind for curling up.

Farmers take any long-range forecast with a grain of salt, but they're still preparing to launch into full-blown protection mode if the freezing temperatures predicted for Friday and Saturday nights actually come to pass.

"It's going to be close,'' Kenneth Parker, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association said.

Rancher Dennis Carlton Jr. said strawberry farmers are getting the pumps ready in case they must spray water to put an insulating layer of ice over the berries.

Landscape contractor Will Womack is getting calls for crews to come cover vulnerable plants, but many of his larger clients will just let the weather take any sub-tropical vegetation and replant in the spring.

In downtown Tampa, a bundled up AJ Chambers, driver with Tampa's free Downtowner ride service, said people were clamoring for a spot in one of the service's 12 covered golf carts and two electric cars.

"We're much warmer than walking or biking, especially when that wind blows," Chambers said.

Around the corner, another man on the job scoffed at the idea of layering on warmth.

Dalton Parker showed up for work in a T-shirt with cut-off sleeves at the Four Green Fields restaurant under construction near Curtis Hixon Park. His co-workers with West Florida Fence, meanwhile, pulled jackets tight and stood in the warm exhaust of a generator.

"If I keep moving, I'm fine," Parker said. "Stay busy, stay warm."

Times staff writer Philip Morgan contributed to this report. Contact Paul Guzzo at Follow @PGuzzoTimes.