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Bay area winks at so-called 'winter'

While neighbors to the north wrestle with bone-chilling cold, Tampa residents slip on socks and keep light jackets handy.

By KATHRYN WEXLER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 2003

TAMPA -- Those of you who didn't look up Monday might not have noticed that the skies were exceptionally clear, the clouds just cottony wisps.

Bill Bennett did. But lovely weather doesn't exactly fire him up.

"It's all right," said Bennett, 57, shading his eyes from the midday glare. He sat in a plastic chair and held a paperback thriller in front of -- where else? -- Sunshine Motel on Gandy Boulevard.

Yes, we Floridians are blase about mild weather. Soaking up sunshine is as special as sucking down air.

Beautiful day? Big deal.

But isn't it fun -- rather, isn't it sad -- to ponder hardships wrought by storms elsewhere?

To gain some perspective, we called the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine. Meteorological technician Art Lester answered the phone.

He said he was "just fine," which seemed a bit suspect, considering there were 17 inches of snow blanketing Gray at the moment.

"Yeah, we got a little bit on the ground," Lester said, confirming it was indeed . . . gray.

That pales in comparison to the chaos in East Hiram, Maine. Thirty-two inches of snow that isn't going anywhere fast.

Tampa, of course, has its own climatic challenges these days. The forecast calls for temperatures to dip tonight to 35 or 40 degrees. Shelters at Bethune Park in Wimauma and the Salvation Army in downtown Tampa will be prepared to accept guests fleeing the cold.

But, surprise, surprise, the sun always rises here. As early as Thursday, temperatures are expected to reach the balmy 70s. Ultraviolet rays will soon beat down on Tampa, once again rendering the bay a shimmery oasis and giving residents wrinkles.

Predictability breeds complacency. Understandably, pleasant weather here doesn't always inspire superlatives.

"I think it's nice," said Cathy Burch, who is also renting a room at Sunshine Motel.

"Shoot," she said, "it's 27 degrees in Texas where my mom lives."

Burch, 42, said that with a smile. Her neighbor down the row, Bill Bennett, had come over to listen, and now he smiled too.

Texas, we're really, really sorry to hear it. Really.

And in Newark, N.J., there was snow on the ground when Jessica Rodriguez left home Sunday. On Monday, the first day of her Tampa vacation, she sat at the Green Iguana in Ybor City, open-toe shoes on her feet.

"I'm freezing," said Rodriguez, 27. Thankfully, she brought her boots.

Paul Close, a local meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said he was forced to wear a Windbreaker to work Monday.

Tsk, tsk.

"But I just came back from Philadelphia," Close said. "So this feels refreshing."

-- Kathryn Wexler can be reached at wexler@sptimes.com or (813)226-3383.

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