'BACK TO NORMAL': Winter storm ices roads, closes bridges, but Destin largely unscathed

Matt Algarin
Due to icy conditions from the winter storm, bridges in Destin and Okaloosa County were closed to traffic. Despite the frigid temperatures, beautiful sunsets warmed the air.

Destin has traded the frigid temperatures of the winter storm for a dose of heavy fog Friday morning, with warmer temperatures expected throughout the weekend.

But was it one for the record books?

"I remember it being like 5 degrees, it was back in like 1988 or 1989 — it was darn cold," Mayor Sam Seevers said. "This definitely comes in close."

With temperatures camping out below freezing for the better part of two days, and temperatures reaching a low of 23.7 degrees this week, Destin was showered with a wintry mix of rain and sleet, which caused area roadways to resemble a slip-n-slide.



Kathy Harrison walked through and iced over Destin and created this video of the experience.

To see her 360 degree view of the frozen beach, click here.


According to information from Weather Station Destin, Thursday saw the coldest temperature of the week as a low wind chill of 15 degrees was recorded at 2:45 a.m.

As the rain and sleet fell Tuesday night, ice began to accumulate on cars, trees, grass and, most alarmingly, roadways. By Wednesday, much of the outside world was iced over. State officials closed the Brooks Bridge, Marler Bridge and Mid-Bay Bridge as they were too dangerous to pass. Given the bridge closures, Destin was effectively cut off from the rest of the world.

Attempts to re-open the bridges came with little success, despite sand being placed on the bridges to help with traction. Bridges were finally opened Thursday, but icy patches remained Friday morning.

During a 48-hour period Wednesday and Thursday, the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office reported that deputies in Destin responded to 10 hazard calls, six traffic crashes and three disabled vehicles, which were all weather related.

Motorists were urged to stay off the roadways, and Sheriff Larry Ashley applauded the community for heeding that warning in a letter he wrote.

"The public's willingness to follow that guidance was a significant investment in both their own individual safety and the safety of others, including local first responders," he wrote.

Battalion Chief Mike Urenda from the Destin Fire Control District said his crew was busy the past few days, but it was mostly due to sprinkler systems at businesses freezing and triggering.

"We had a lot of those," he said. "They were just freezing... and we have to respond to those calls."

Bursting pipes tend to be the most common problem facing the team at Destin Water Users. General Manager Richard Griswold told The Log some residences and businesses experienced broken backflow preventers and crews responded to those calls, if they could provide assistance. Other issues included leaks where outside hose bibs and lines froze and burst.

"Thursday morning we had a pretty good crew in early and we were all just waiting for the temperature to rise to thawing conditioning," Griswold said. "That is when the leaks from burst pipes manifest."

School and business closures were also the norm, as students received three very rare "snow days" in Destin. Many area restaurants, shops and businesses closed their doors due to the weather and the safety of employees.

"Out of an abundance of caution for all the employees that have to travel a long distance to work each day we decided to close for everyone's safety," Destin Commons General Manager Bob Perry told The Log.

But some businesses that remained open saw people flock to their establishments, such as Island Wing Company. The restaurant was packed Wednesday night.

Public Information Manager Doug Rainer told The Log that the city of Destin only had one weather-related incident to report, which was a burst pipe at June White Decker Park. Public services crews have already repaired the pipe.

"We are back to normal," he said.