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Cold, Flurries in Florida, Growers Worry

January 3, 2008

TAMPA, Fla. - Florida’s citrus growers reported only minor damage early Thursday from a blast of cold air, even as snow flurries fell in at least one part of the Sunshine State.

Citrus industry officials believe the state’s groves escaped major damage, because it didn’t get as cold as forecast.

When temperatures get down to 28 degrees for four hours, a tree can be ruined. While forecasts said it could get that cold overnight, temperatures hovered in the 30s in central and South Florida where most orange and grapefruit growers are based.

“Overall, this is preliminary, but it looks like we have dodged a bullet,” said Rusty Wiygul, director of grower affairs for Florida Citrus Mutual. He said there will be pockets of minor damage.

Growers were doing two things – harvesting as many mature fruits and vegetables as possible, and trying to protect plants by spraying them with water that freezes, insulating the temperature at 32.

Temperatures in many areas of northern Florida dropped into the 20s early Thursday, following the 30-degree temperatures some northern parts of the state saw Wednesday. Cross City was 20. Farther south, Orlando was 31 and it was 39 in Miami. Snow flurries were reported near the Daytona Beach coastline, the first in Florida since 2006.

People in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, the Southeast, the Gulf Coast and the Ohio Valley woke up to sub-freezing temperatures.

Upstate New York had single-digit readings and wind chills well below zero. At 7 a.m., it was 8 degrees below zero in Watertown, N.Y., with the wind chill making it feel like 20 below. In Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks, it was 17 below with calm winds.

The lowest reading in Maine was 23 below near Ashland, the National Weather Service said. Detroit was 6. Ohio saw 9 degrees at Cleveland Hopkins Airport, 8 in Youngstown and 7 in Dayton.

People shivered overnight inside about 1,000 homes that lost power in the Cincinnati suburb of Madeira after a vehicle hit a utility pole around 12:30 a.m. Duke Energy indicates nearly all the customers were back on by 6 a.m.

On the West Coast, a trio of rainstorms was expected to hit Southern California this weekend, with the first band of showers set to arrive Thursday.

The heaviest precipitation is expected overnight Friday, with lowland areas around Los Angeles and Orange County getting a total of up to 4 inches and mountain areas up to 6 inches.

Officials urged homeowners in mudslide-prone areas to stock up on sandbags, monitor the news for evacuations and keep an eye on local streams and flood control channels for flooding. Fire stations throughout the region were handing out free sandbags.

Citrus crops were not the only ones at risk in Florida. On Thursday, farmers will be checking on other crops that Florida produces in the winter for much of the country, from broccoli and cabbage in north Florida to strawberries, tomatoes, corn and citrus toward the south.

In Louisiana, strawberry farmers covered their crops with material in an attempt to protect them. Peach farmers, however, welcomed the cold, which they say benefits their fruit trees during their period of dormancy.

“The more cold weather we have, the better,” said Joe Mitchum, a peach grower outside Ruston, La.

The unusually low temperatures led New Orleans emergency officials to enact a “freeze plan” on New Year’s Eve, allowing homeless shelters to temporarily exceed their fire safety capacity. Six shelters took on 700 extra cots between them, boosting the city’s capacity of about 400 shelter beds. The plan is expected to last through Thursday.

Snow fell Wednesday from Ohio through eastern Kentucky and West Virginia into parts of Virginia and Maryland. West Virginia’s rugged Randolph County got 13 inches, the Weather Service said.

At least 40 of West Virginia’s 55 counties closed schools Wednesday because of snow-covered roads and freezing temperatures. Dozens of schools also were closed Wednesday in southeastern Michigan.

Associated Press writer Gillian Flaccus in Santa Ana, Calif., contributed to this report.




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