Weather experts are warning Northwest Florida residents to brace for potentially bitter cold settling in around New Year’s Eve and lasting throughout next week.

FORT WALTON BEACH — Weather experts are warning Northwest Florida residents to brace for potentially bitter cold settling in around New Year’s Eve and lasting throughout next week.

Don Shepherd, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mobile, Alabama, said Thursday that models were showing the potential for nighttime temperatures to dip into the high 20s in coastal areas and low to mid-20s inland beginning Tuesday.

“Right now, the primary story is just the cold that really lasts for all of next week,” Shepherd said. “Nighttime lows will be below freezing each night in the northern parts of (Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton) counties, and most likely in the southern part of the counties as well.”

Shepherd said while light snow and freezing rain were expected New Year’s Eve in northern Alabama and southeastern Mississippi, Northwest Florida residents could expect cold temperatures and rainy conditions Sunday.

“(Snow chances) are expected generally along and north of the Interstate 65 corridor right now. Iit’s just a low-end chance of regular precipitation (in the Fort Walton Beach area),” Shepherd said.

County officials announced cold weather shelters would be open in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties at least through Jan. 1. In Walton county, the cold weather shelter is open any time the temperature dips below 40 degrees and is announced on a day-to-day basis, according to county public information officer Louis Svehla.

Shepherd said snow chances next week could rise if any moisture moves into the area and mixes with the extreme cold — conditions meteorologists would monitor closely.

The big story for the area though, he said, will be the freezing temperatures.

“Anything below 20 degrees we do issue hard freeze, so especially in the northern part of the county there, you may see some watches and warnings, because it’s going to be well below freezing,” he said. “Keep a check on the elderly and your neighbors, and bring the pets in.”