As a massive, historic winter storm swept across the U.S. on Monday, unloading dangerous snowfall, freezing rain and piercing wind chills, South Florida’s scorching beaches served as a hot destination for hundreds of tourists and the usual crowd of locals who enjoyed the long holiday weekend by the water, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Wearing little to no masks and barely keeping the recommended 6-foot distancing, visitors lugging suitcases and bags that displayed hotel cards paraded around South Beach throughout the day, waiting for Uber or Lyft rides, and packing the restaurants near Ocean Drive and the stores on Lincoln Road.

One tourist, Tony Johnson, 35, said he woke up Friday to 25-degree weather in Maryland, Baltimore and he and a few of his friends decided to snag round-trip airplane tickets for $140 from Southwest Airlines. They escaped from the snow that same day.

“It was a spur-of-the-moment decision,” said the nursing professional, who wore pants and a T-shirt as he sat on a concrete step away from the water. “We rushed out. So much so that I forgot to pack a swimsuit. That’s why I’m not at the beach right now.”

Beachgoers visit Miami Beach, Florida on Monday, February 15, 2021.

As Johnson soaked up the sun, an unprecedented winter storm gripped most of the country. It set record-breaking low temperatures in several areas, caused major traffic accidents on icy roads and left millions of Americans without power.

But not in South Florida, where people remained mainly concerned about finding a good sport on the sand, or eating their popsicles and chugging their frozen drinks before these melted under the hot sun. Johnson said he and his friends are planning to stay in Miami until Wednesday while friends and family members back home freeze.

“They mad,” he said with a chuckle. “They jealous.”

Mia Lurie, 5, plays at South Pointe ParkÕs Wet Playground in Miami Beach, Florida on Monday, February 15, 2021.

Mia Lurie, 5, plays at South Pointe ParkÕs Wet Playground in Miami Beach, Florida on Monday, February 15, 2021.

Not all travel was impromptu, though.

Maggie Messmann, 25, said she planned a getaway with her partner to South Florida a while ago because they hate the cold. They got to Miami Friday for their one-week trip.

While on a bike ride Monday, they said they had already partied in the Wynwood arts district and wanted to sneak a visit to the Florida Keys before returning to minus-14-degree weather in Winona, Minnesota.

Regarding the coronavirus, the stay-at-home mom said “that’s obviously a concern,” but they were glad to be outside.

Mara Sadloski, 40, said she also scheduled her trip to Miami well in advance, precisely because she wanted to take a break from the snowy conditions in Hartford, Connecticut. It turned out even better than expected.

Gabriel Gonzalez, 22, and Bonnie Levin play volleyball at Lummus Park in Miami Beach, Florida on Monday, February 15, 2021.

Gabriel Gonzalez, 22, and Bonnie Levin play volleyball at Lummus Park in Miami Beach, Florida on Monday, February 15, 2021.

She arrived Friday and returned Monday night, but not without partly enjoying the day lying on the grass under a tree in South Beach.

As she looked at the outdoor seating in the restaurants across the street, the health care worker said she was shocked to see the tables so close together and so few facial coverings.

“People always wear the masks up North,” she said. “Even outside. I think they help keep us warm there.”

Ramiro Delvalle, who has lived by the beach since he was about 2 years old, said the holiday crowds were smaller than he expected.

As the 58-year-old strolled down Ocean Drive Monday afternoon walking Twinkie, his six-year-old chihuahua-mix, he said he likes seeing the environment “vibrant” again after being shutdown for COVID-19. But he also worries about the virus transmission in the elbow-to-elbow crowds.

“Lately, it’s been getting out of hand,” he said. “It’s unfortunate. It’s very, very sad.”



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