Part of our family has decided to quarantine in Clearwater Beach since December 14th. Coming from Chicago, we’re fortunate to travel by car to a location where much of your time can be spent outside which helps with being safe during these unpredictable times. Again, I want to first say how thankful and grateful I am, to be able to escape Chicago’s coldest months and spend some time in Florida where the sun is typically easy to find.
December and January Beach Walks
Over the last few years, I've spend the majority of time in Florida during several winter months. Even though it's winter in Florida, the days are shorter (it's January), and it feels like fall and that's not a bad thing. Again, my insight regarding the weather and climate have been observed in Florida's statistically coldest months.
From mid-December until the 20th or so of February, the weather is typically cooler than usual (for Florida standards), cool and sunny, and cool and cloudy. Add in a high amount of humidity and it can be a little chilly on the beach. I’m told I have warm blood and can handle very cold conditions but when I wore a shirt and fleece jacket on January 10, 2021, with an 18 mph wind from the north (high temperature was 52, low of 37), the wind cut through that jacket like a chainsaw to a large pine. For most of this memorable walk, my thoughts imprinted in my mind the need to purchase a good windbreaker. This particular weather day was among the coldest, so this example may not be apropo, but for those novice visitors, you can have many of these days. Semi-traumatic beach walks in colder weather helps to etch that experience in one's memory bank. I will also say that on those blustery days, you have 10% of the visitors and residents occupying much of the beach terrain. Many are full-timers, which means, they can be more choosy about enjoying the beach with beautiful just on the horizon.
Clearwater Beach has a humid subtropical climate which is characterized by hot and humid summers, and cold to mild winters. Coming from a northern climate, I don't necessarily think that a beach walk so far south could be so cold. Experience can be a harsh teacher. I've deluded myself to think that a Clearwater Beach (North Latitude of 27.9721) just sounds warm and sunny. If it’s cloudy or the sun is unavailable, that can quickly send temps dropping. During cold spells, temps can drop to the low 40s at night and only reach into the 50s or low 60s. But from a comfort perspective, adding a chilly northwind makes the beach less palatable.
Compared with the Midwest in January, this weather is delightful. My intent here isn't to brag or offend, I merely wanted to share my dozens of experiences on the beach during this time.
I remember a snowbird tell me that years ago that there are some really cold and damp days on beaches in Florida, even if the sun is shining, the wind is always your ally. He explained in a way to suggest that the very damp air in a tropical climate in some ways feels colder than identical conditions in the north. I believed him at the time but didn't give it much thought until I had his same experience.
Our path to the beach allows us to walk either to the left (south) or the right (north). If it’s a little chilly and blustery, my wife and I typically opt for the north route which means you address the colder wind first. The breakwater boulders (which provides a channel to the intercoastal), are a brisk 15 minutes away. That’s where you might briefly take a break and chill for a few minutes or you may glance at the anglers on the rocks, trying to secure dinner. If it's blustery, you see no fisherman and you quickly pivot to the opposite direction. The trip back is more comfortable, as those direct winds to your head and body are now absent. As difficult it is to walk into a headwind, having a tailwind on the way back feels like a lifeline.
There’s Always a Humid Breeze near the Gulf
As mentioned earlier, the sun is more common than the clouds, especially right along the beach. The wind is common -- you rarely find a calm day at the beach. Part of this has to do with Clearwater Beach being an island surrounded by water. There just aren’t’ the barriers around to slow down the wind. Beach widths and native vegetation is some areas exceed 400 feet so these open areas also contribute. Sometimes it’s blowing from the south and a day later, the wind direction shifts to strong northerly winds. Having said that, the other constant element on the beach is humidity. Again, I’m only gauging humidity in colder months but it appears the humidity is rarely below 50 and sometimes reaches 80. I’m assuming it doesn’t matter what month, humidity on the Gulf Coast is omnipresent. That makes perfect sense and yet at the same time, it's hard to fathom a climate with high humidity year round.
Being a newbie to this location, I still look at sunsets as a big deal. Never before did I live somewhere that provides such beautiful beach sunsets. There are times I'm reading on the couch and it dawns on me the sun is several minutes from calling it a day and my first response is to stand up and get moving. This is a gift, each and every day, so making an effort is a commitment I made to myself.
Another advantage to this effort involves steps or movement of the body. With regular access to the beach and other nearby walkways, weather permitting is 10,000 per day. If I'm at 7,000 steps on a given day and to get to the beach is 1,000, you already need to add 1,000 to the meter (to get back to the couch). Just by appreciating the early evening sun and sky, you may sometimes absentmindedly arrive in the neighborhood of achieving your goal. I often consider that a win-win as I glance at my tracker while the daylight slowly slips away.
There are typically two types of people who stroll on the beach in anticipation of the end of daylight: One group of people who appear to love sunsets and may hang around another 45 minutes until darkness falls upon the beach. The other, people who appear to love sunsets, may take several photos and then head in for the day. Sometimes, the prettiest sky is 15 or so minutes after the red ball disappears. If good visibility, you can take spectacular sky and sunset pics, as the sky may paint a new picture every minute, one never knows when the twilight sky will change colors. As I'm seeing some folks headed in, I want to reach out to some and convince them of the value of staying. I don't want to pound my head against the sand but again, based on my 40 or so observations, they're missing half the show by leaving at halftime, whether they're aware, post sundown can also be a great experience to have.