LUIS SANTANA | Times
December 25, 2022
Don Aiken welcomes people into a cold weather shelter hosted by the Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa.
Hundreds find places to sleep as power companies and Tampa International Airport brace for complications caused by a winter blast.
BY SHARON KENNEDY WYNNE
Times Staff Writer
On this weekend of cold nights and tight spaces, Don Aiken found meaning in the season, with its age-old story of a family turned away at the inn and finally finding makeshift housing for the night.
At Tampa’s Hyde Park United Methodist Church, where Aiken is a longtime volunteer, 80 people sought protection from the cold Friday night, bedding down in the church’s sanctuary. With holiday events planned for that space, the timing was awkward. But volunteers were managing nicely.
“It’s unusual for us to have a cold snap like this that will probably last four nights in a row, but it is also Christmas Eve and we have four services today,” said Aiken, a retired Navy veteran who has run the church’s cold shelter operation for the last decade.
In the midst of a holiday season with lots of people traveling, he said he was stunned to find that he had more volunteers than he needed, with people dropping off food and blankets and spending the night at the church to help monitor operations.The Tampa Bay area is expected to see one of its three coldest Christmas days on record. But by next week, temperatures are expected to return to the 70s.
“It’s such an integral part of the Christmas service, because we tell a story of a family and there was no room for them in the inn, and they needed shelter and so it’s our opportunity to give back,” said Vicki Walker, the minister of missions and outreach at Hyde Park United Methodist.
Two hundred adults and 45 children stayed in cold weather shelters Friday night in Hillsborough County, said the county’s community relations coordinator Julie Watkinson. Administrators expected even more on Saturday night as the cold weather continues, she said.
The shelters will remain available through tonight.
More than 330 people stayed in Pinellas County shelters on Friday night, said Monika Alesnik, CEO of the Homeless Leadership Alliance of Pinellas.
Many areas of Florida were at or below freezing Saturday morning, with wind chills as low as the teens and more cold weather expected today.
As people cranked up their heaters, Duke Energy and Tampa Electric Co. reported more than 3,000 power outages in the Tampa Bay area early Saturday. At one point, Duke counted more than 8,000 customers without power statewide. The numbers fluctuated up and down as additional reports came in and utility crews made repairs.
Outside Florida, a massive winter storm battered the country with frigid temperatures, high winds and heavy snow, leaving at least nine people dead and wrecking holiday plans from coast to coast.
As of midday Saturday, Tampa International Airport reported that 58 flights had been canceled and 145 were delayed because of the rough weather around the country, an airport spokesperson said. It affected a third of air travelers through the airport and nearly half of all flights.
Adam Bouchard, vice president of operations at the airport, said the weather is improving so flight delays appear to be declining, though he expected today to be a busier Christmas Day than usual with people making up for cancellations.
“We believe the worst of it is over unless some airlines surprise us by getting very far behind in catching up,” Bouchard said Saturday. “But the weather is improving and we expect to be back on solid footing by tomorrow.”
Florida is the primary supplier of fresh fruits and vegetables for the rest of the country during the winter, and growers were harvesting as much of their crops as possible ahead of the cold front, according to The Associated Press. In Central Florida, where blueberries, strawberries and blackberries are grown, growers used overhead irrigation to spray a protective coat of ice around the fruit.
To find a cold weather shelter in Pinellas County, visit PinellasHomeless.org/coldnightshelters.
In Hillsborough County, locations can be found at bit.ly/3vfGQLM.
To make sheltering arrangements in Pasco County, residents should call the Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County at 727-842-8605, and select the “cold weather sheltering” option, Extension 2.
Hernando County is coordinating with Jericho Road Ministries to provide shelters. Locations can be found at hernandocounty.us.
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727-893-8595. Follow @SharonKWn.