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So long, sultry summer

Lower temperatures, less humidity and thus more outdoor adventures signal autumn's pleasant arrival.

Melanie Ave and Brady Dennis
Published October 11, 2006

No changing leaves mark Florida's release from summer's sweaty stranglehold.

No Kodak moment of gold, crimson and rust.

Yet autumn, in all its subtlety, has begun its embrace.

Levi Cunningham Jr. noticed it Sunday morning at church.

"Everybody had these beautiful smiles on their faces," said the 53-year-old disabled machinist, as he waxed his black 2003 GMC Yukon Tuesday under the shade of a St. Petersburg palm tree. "They were calm. I just knew it was the weather."

Low temperatures have dropped into the 60s in the past week in the bay area. Highs, normally in the 90s, have crept into the 80s. Humidity levels have dropped by about 20 percentage points.

"Our summer season is basically over," said meteorologist Anthony Reynes of the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

Cold fronts are making regular visits now, kicking out the tropical showers from the Gulf of Mexico and allowing northern winds to blow. Another cold front is expected by week's end.

The cooler weather came not a moment too soon for Reginald McCarter, 44, who slipped away early Tuesday from his construction job to soak up the fall air and fish the banks of the Hillsborough River in Tampa.

"I'm comfortable," McCarter said. "It's good when it cools down."

He fishes most weekends and usually wears a wide-brimmed hat to shield him from the blazing sun. On Tuesday, he left the hat at home.

He said he gets more bites when the water cools. Within an hour, he'd already caught three fish and a crab.

From parks to malls, people are giving the new season a cheer. It even makes work a bit more tolerable for those who spend their days outdoors.

"The cooler it is, the easier the day is," said Mike Smith, 34, who for six years has worked for Tampa's Clean City Division. He and two colleagues spent Tuesday mowing and hedging sidewalks along MacDill Avenue. They went home less sweaty, less tired.

Kathleen Whittington, 52, enjoyed walking her 6-year-old golden retriever, Bailey, at Coffee Pot Park in St. Petersburg. "I can go outside in the daytime ... Thank you, God," she said. "We women over 50 appreciate cooler weather. It helps with hot flashes."

Whittington said she's in a much better mood these days and feels freed from the confines of her air-conditioned home.

Tuesday morning, Jim Inman, 65, sat shirtless in the sand fronting Tampa Bay. The retired Iowa high school band teacher became a Florida resident this year. He said he's happy to be down south right about now.

"It's supposed to get down to 20 degrees in Iowa tonight," Inman said.

Northerners mark their falls with rakes and coats. Floridians dust off the patio furniture and pull the bikes out of the garage.

We open the windows, forgo the bug spray and take our kids to Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo in the middle of the day, as Troy and Lisa Draughn of Citrus County did Tuesday with their 3-year-old son, Nathaniel.

"It's definitely better when it's cooler," Lisa Draughn said. "It wasn't too cold; it wasn't too hot."

"It was just right," her husband said.

Tuesday morning, as a cool breeze blew, Bill and Trish Thomas took their daily stroll around St. Petersburg's Snell Isle neighborhood.

They hardly broke a sweat.

"We walked out the door this morning and said, this weather is beautiful," said Bill Thomas, 71. "People in Florida love this time of year."

Melanie Ave can be reached at 727 893-8813 or mave@sptimes.com.

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