Cold snap sends iguanas and Floridians alike into shock

Winter in Florida? The winter haven for freeze-fleeing northern residents? How could it be?

For three days this week, some Floridians have been forced to deal with the most daunting of Southeastern circumstances: freezing temperatures. After spending much of the first half of the month sweating through temperatures that were routinely more than 5 to 15 F above the historical average, a sharp turn toward the cold sent residents in cities such as Tampa Bay and Miami scrambling for scarves.

“It was bitterly cold by Florida standards on Wednesday morning,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Bill Deger said. “Factoring in wind, some weather stations in South Florida observed wind chills in the 20s, leading to wind chill advisories.”

Wind chill advisories were issued in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach on Wednesday morning, and Jacksonville and Tallahassee had temperatures lower than Denver, Colorado, Juneau, Alaska, and Great Falls, Montana.

While some of the shocking figures to come out of the region have been due to erroneous reports – Miami didn’t actually get snow and temperatures didn’t actually reach minus-74 in Alligator Alley – the shocking temperatures have been anything but fake. Just ask the iguanas.

Iguanas are not native to Florida and the cold-blooded reptiles struggle to maintain their core body temperature when temperatures drop. The struggle results in the reptiles becoming stiff, immobile and, thus, much more likely to fall out of trees, where they usually sleep.

When fully grown, iguanas can be up to 5 feet long and weigh up to 25 pounds. Such large lizards falling from trees can damage sidewalks and could cause injury to unaware humans who don’t normally prepare for raining reptiles.

To warn the public, the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Miami issued an unofficial falling iguana alert on Tuesday night.

Sure enough, iguanas were seen falling out of trees during the overnight hours. By Wednesday morning, as the sunshine warmed up the air, iguanas began emerging from their cold-induced slumber and returning to consciousness. Frank Guzman, the Broward bureau chief for WSVN-TV, captured video of a zombie-like iguana lying on its back unconscious on the sidewalk, and then slowly waking up and staggering to its feet.

Frank Guzman, a bureau chief for a local TV station, caught video of an iguana that had fallen unconscious on the sidewalk emerging from its cold-induced stupor on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (Frank Guzman / WSVN-TV)

Robert Molleda, a warning coordination meteorologist with the NWS in Miami, told AccuWeather that issuing such a unique warning was fun for the meteorologists.

“Despite the fact that it wasn’t an official warning, the fact that it’s such a unique aspect of the cold temperatures certainly made it take a life of its own on social media,” Molleda said. “I don’t think we expected the posts to get as much attention as they did. The mention of falling iguanas wasn’t meant to be the main takeaway from this event, but it appears it has overshadowed what in reality is a non-record breaking cold spell.”

Molleda said the iguanas were introduced to Florida from the Caribbean and Central and South America. Recent warm winters have allowed the reptiles to adapt and spread throughout the southern portion of the state, but the iguanas are still susceptible to winter cold snaps like the one to hit Florida this week.

A frozen iguana spotted in a Delray Beach, Florida, backyard on Wednesday morning, Jan. 22, 2020. (Twitter / @RoyalGoddess)


Because of the invasiveness and destructive habits of iguanas, Molleda said most Floridians have come to despise the reptiles.

“Iguanas are not viewed favorably by South Floridians, however they’re not aggressive and don’t attack or harm humans or pets, so people generally view them more as pests than a real threat,” Modella said. “However, their droppings can contain the salmonella bacteria.”

A young iguana found on a road Wednesday morning, Jan. 22, 2020, after falling out of a tree due to cold weather. (Twitter/@EricBlake12)

Even though meteorologists had some fun issuing the “warnings,” visitors in the supposed Sunshine State are probably ready to see the warm conditions they expected when their trips were booked.

Local residents, however, may not be as disappointed, according to Molleda.

“Contrary to what some people may think, a lot of local South Floridians like the cold weather as it’s a change from the typical mild/warm weather,” Molleda said. “People break out jackets, boots, and other warm clothing they don’t get to wear too often. As far as tourists are concerned, there are probably some varying opinions, with some people looking forward to and expecting 80-degree temperatures probably surprised and disappointed by weather resembling more of where they came from.”

On Wednesday morning, temperatures in multiple locations dipped under 30 F for the first time in years. In Miami, the low temperature of 39 F on Wednesday morning made for the coldest day since 2010.

Iguanas weren’t the only animals that dealt with the unseasonable chill. Over on Florida’s Gulf Coast, manatees could be seen in aerial footage huddling together in the shallow water near the docks in Apollo Beach, a sight that brought out troves of onlookers.

Molleda said the cold spell is a result of a high-pressure area from Canada that traveled down into the United States over the past week, bringing a cold air mass that coupled with a low-pressure area off the Southeast coast on Tuesday to spread the cold air across the eastern half of the country.

Iguana falling from tree Florida
Iguana falling from tree Florida

An iguana falls from a tree in southern Florida as an unseasonable cold snap enveloped the Sunshine State Tuesday night into Wednesday. (WPLG / ABC Newsone)

Thankfully, the weather forecasts showed a clear likelihood for this cold spell to arrive, giving the state’s residents enough time to dig through their closets to find those rarely-worn winter boots.

“Weather models were showing a distinct possibility of colder weather as early as last week, and lower temperatures have been in the forecast for several days,” Molleda said. “Therefore, I don’t think residents were caught by surprise, and many were looking forward to a spell of colder weather after a pretty warm first half of January.”

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