There is no school in Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties Wednesday. FDOT begins winter weather operations Tuesday afternoon.
As a winter storm creeps across the eastern United States with eyes on Northwest Florida, local officials began issuing advisories, announcing closures and taking precautionary measures throughout the day Tuesday.
The storm is expected to send temperatures plunging into the low 20s overnight Tuesday, and bring with it a strong chance of snow, sleet and freezing rain. The National Weather Service in Mobile said coastal and northern areas from Mobile to Okaloosa county could expect light accumulations of freezing rain of less than a tenth of an inch, as well as snow accumulations of less than a half inch. NWS Mobile officially issued a Winter Weather Advisory Tuesday morning.
In Okaloosa county, Emergency Management Division Chief Randy McDaniel said the worst case scenario for the area would be less than a half inch of snow and/or ice accumulation, "which is basically a trace."
"We’re not looking at widespread ice or snow," McDaniel said. "I would just caution people as they’re driving, if the bridge looks wet in the morning, there’s a good chance that could be a patch of ice and they need to exercise caution while driving."
Ian Satter, spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation, said crews began spraying the roads in Escambia county with a "potassium acetate" solution at 1 p.m. Tuesday and would be working their way through roads and bridges in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties throughout the afternoon. They were expected to begin spraying in Walton county at 8 p.m. The solution is meant to keep roads and bridges from icing over.
Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Eddie Elmore said troopers would increase their presence on Northwest Florida roadways Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning to monitor roadways and bridges, and would be making any determinations about bridge closures as needed.
"We will evaluate the road conditions as they develop overnight, and we will make a safety judgment based on conditions at that time," Elmore said. "Snow on the roadways is not going to close the roads, but what we worry about is high-profile bridges that are typically the first to ice over, so we’re going to really monitor all of the bridges and check for icing."
The last time bridges closed in Okaloosa county due to ice accumulation was after a winter storm in January 2014.
Schools in Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties will be closed Wednesday as well, with school officials citing dangerous driving conditions as reasons for the closures. Additionally, classes at all Northwest Florida State College campuses were cancelled Wednesday.
And in Pensacola, the Naval Air Station isn’t immune from the winter weather either. A press release sent out Tuesday afternoon said the navy base would "curtail normal operations and close the installations to all visitors and non-essential personnel at 9 p.m. today, Jan. 16" due to the anticipated deep freeze.
Courts in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties will close Wednesday, while Okaloosa and Walton county courts said they will remain open but would be "closely monitoring the situation and any changes will be announced as soon as possible."
The Destin Commons announced in a press release they would close early Tuesday night, at 7 p.m., and reopen late Wednesday at noon.
Walton County government offices will be closed Wednesday as well.
UPDATE 3 P.M.: Northwest Florida State College has announced that all classes and administrative operations are cancelled at all college locations on Wednesday due to winter weather advisories.
UPDATE 1:15 P.M. Walton County Superintendent Russell Hughes confirmed that Walton County schools will be closed Wednesday, Jan. 17 due to wintry weather.
UPDATE 12:12 P.M.: Santa Rosa County and Okaloosa County schools will be closed on Wednesday, Jan. 17 due to the weather situation, officials said.
Santa Rosa County Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick said in a noon press release that based on the 10 a.m. advisory from the National Weather Service, Santa Rosa District Schools will be closed Wednesday.
"The safety of our students and employees is always our highest priority. The Emergency Operation Center and the National Weather Service advise roads and bridges are likely to freeze. For this reason transporting students is not advised and we will close all buildings on Wednesday," Wyrosdick said in the release.
"Activities for Tuesday evening can continue but must be concluded by 9 p.m.," he continued. "Currently, school will be in session on Thursday unless additional information requires closure. We will inform you of changes through social media, email, and a phone call. Employees and parents should stay in contact with local media as the situation can change quickly."
A source at the Okaloosa County School District confirmed Okaloosa schools would be closed as well. Students were already texting about it and a sourced confirmed it Tuesday at 12:15 p.m.
Walton County Superintendent Russell Hughes said he was working with local emergency management officials to make a determination on whether or not to close schools in Walton County.
CHIPLEY — The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) announced Tuesday it would be conducting winter weather operations beginning at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 16 in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties in preparation for an approaching winter storm.
Operations will continue at 8 p.m. beginning in Walton County and move east throughout the evening into Jackson County, according to an FDOT press release.
The storm is supposed to send temperatures plunging into the teens and 20s throughout much of Northwest Florida Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, with a chance of wintry precipitation — including snow, ice and sleet — forecast for some parts of the area.
In the press release, FDOT said motorists may notice an increased number of FDOT vehicles on state routes as FDOT maintenance and operations staff monitor winter weather conditions on bridges and roadways. FDOT crews will deploy various ice and snow removal equipment including snow plows and salt and chemical spreaders throughout the area.
"FDOT’s winter weather plan has been developed to keep Florida’s highway system safe and operational in all types of weather conditions," the press release said.
FDOT is advising drivers to avoid driving if road conditions are hazardous. Drivers should wait until road and weather conditions improve before venturing out in their vehicles because it’s harder to control or stop a vehicle on a slick or snow-covered surface.
"On the road, increase your following distance enough so that you’ll have plenty of time to stop for vehicles ahead of you," the release added.
Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Eddie Elmore said mid-day Tuesday that FHP officials were "closely monitoring" the winter weather conditions and would make judgments on any bridge closures based on ice accumulations.
"We will evaluate the road conditions as they develop overnight, and we will make a safety judgment based on conditions at that time," Elmore said. "Snow on the roadways is not going to close the roads, but what we worry about is the high-profile bridges that are typically the first to ice over, so we’re going to really monitor all of the bridges and check for icing."
Elmore said FDOT, who works with FHP to monitor roads and bridges, had "technology where they can pre-treat the roadway" and would be evaluating the necessity for using such treatments during a 3 p.m. conference call Tuesday.