Florida wakes to icy lows

Published: Friday, January 24, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 24, 2003 at 12:34 a.m.
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Workers at Rogers Farms on S.R. 121 South of Lacrosse, spent the better part of the day Thursday covering 8 acres of strawberry plants. According to workers, the wind was hindering progress by causing the tarps to tear.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun
With temperatures plummeting into the teens early this morning, local residents prepared Thursday for the coldest weather North Central Florida has seen in years.
Classes are canceled today in Bradford, Columbia, Suwannee and Union counties because of the cold weather, school officials said.
"We're concerned a great deal about transporting students," said Harvard Wyman, Suwannee County schools superintendant. "With a lot of young kids standing out at the bus stop very early in the morning, we just felt it wasn't a healthy thing to do."
Classes in Alachua County also are closed today, but the day off is because of a previously scheduled teacher work day and not the weather, said Robin Snyder, schools spokeswoman.
"We've just got perfect timing," Snyder said. "No buses that have to run; no pupils that have to wait out in the cold."
The cold also was a concern for those who help homeless people. Four area churches had offered to open their doors Thursday night to handle the overflow expected at St. Francis House. Other churches planned to donate food and blankets.
St. Francis House director Jim Boggs said the shelter, combined with the church space, would be able to house 230 people overnight. The shelter normally has a capacity of 80 beds.
If more people needed beds, he said emergency rescue personnel planned to help place them in other emergency shelters.
Nursery owners also stand to be impacted by the cold, and they scrambled to protect their plants Thursday.
"I have winterization cloth," said Ken Murray, owner of Ken Murray's plants in Alachua. "I slide the cloth over bows. I anchor it down so wind doesn't blow it away, and I open all spigots so the (irrigation) pipes don't freeze."
Murray said he has lived in North Florida for seven years and has never seen such cold weather here.
"I don't remember the cold fronts back to back so fast," Murray said.
And while people also need protecting in the bitter weather, utilities officials warned that bumping up the thermostat is equivalent to bumping up your utility bill.
"For every degree they raise thermostat over 68, their bill increases 4 percent per month," said Tara Thomas, conservation analyst at Gainesville Regional Utilities. "But most people don't keep it at 68. The majority of people are keeping it at 72, 74 and 78 degrees."
But dropping the thermostat below 68 during the day also can be a bad idea, Thomas cautioned.
"For the elderly and children, it's not a safe temperature at anything lower than 68," Thomas said.
Cars also are susceptible to freezing temperatures, mechanics say.
A bad battery may lead to a slow start or no start for your car, said Lee Pelletier, manager at Bush-Gator Auto Repair in Gainesville.
Car owners also should keep windshield washer fluid in their car and not put water in the containers, Pelletier said. Water will freeze, but windshield wiper fluid won't.
Owners should make sure their cars have enough antifreeze to protect it up to minus 20 degrees, Pelletier said.
While it probably will never get that cold in Gainesville, wind chills could make it feel colder than the actual temperature, Pelletier said.
Wind chills will drop into the single digits by early this morning, according to the National Weather Service.
But it's not only North Central Florida that's suffering.
A hard freeze warning was issued for Central Florida, and a freeze warning was issued for the central coast and southern interior for Thursday night and early today.
A wind chill advisory was issued for the entire state except the Panhandle and the Keys.
Temperatures were expected to drop into the 20s in Central Florida and 30s in South Florida.
The cold weather will continue for the next several days, with high temperatures today forecast at a frigid 43 degrees and lows tonight of 20.
High temperatures Saturday, Sunday and Monday will be in the mid- to upper 50s, with lows of 28 on Saturday night, 38 on Sunday night and 32 on Monday night.
The average high temperature for January is 67 degrees, and 44 is the average low, according to weather.com.
Kathy Ciotola can be reached at 338-3109 or ciotolk@gvillesun. com. Sun staff writer Ashley Rowland and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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