A wish for snow

Weather service says low temp broke a record


Jeffrey Islam gets a snowball thrown at him at Hospice of North Central Florida on Saturday. The snow was delivered to fulfill a wish of Joan Islam to see snow one last time. Jeffrey is Joan Islam's grandson.

LEE FERINDEN/Special to The Sun
Published: Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 12:56 a.m.

Subfreezing temperatures in Gainesville sent many people scurrying for refuge from the chilly air Saturday, but for 60-year-old Joan Islam, basking in the afternoon cold was a prayer long overdue and finally answered.

"She said to a friend that she really wanted to see snow one last time," said Julie Ariet, 36 and daughter of Islam, who resides at the E.T. York Hospice Care Center.

So as the mercury dropped and forecasters predicted subfreezing temperatures settling over the region Friday and Saturday, Islam's family set out to bring old man winter's calling card to Gainesville.

The result: buckets of snow courtesy of University Ice, snow angels and hot chocolate on the Hospice center's back lawn.

"Basically," said Sandie Fein, the care center's manager, "we had a winter festival."

The weekend's makeshift snowstorm was possible Saturday as temperatures in Gainesville plunged to 21 degrees overnight, a Jan. 25 record low for the area, according to Matt Zibura, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jacksonville. The previous record of 23 degrees was set in 1963, he said.

According to Weather Central, the area's record low for Jan. 25 is 16 degrees, set in 1905.

Temperatures aren't likely to warm any time soon, either. Another freeze warning was in effect overnight Saturday, Zibura said, with lows dipping down into the upper 20s.

Today, highs will be in the upper 50s, giving way to cooler temperatures and cloudy skies through early next week. A weak cold front is expected to bring severe wind chills into the region overnight Monday, dragging air temperatures down to the mid-20s by Tuesday morning.

Other areas experienced record lows for Jan. 25, including 32-degree readings early Saturday in Lakeland and Melbourne, 36 in Vero Beach and 38 in parts of St. Petersburg, said meteorologist Rob Handel of the National Weather Service in Miami.

No locations in South Florida experienced freezing temperatures overnight Friday and into early Saturday, Handel said.

Back in Gainesville, while the cold was a blessing for Islam, some residents and business owners were cursing the frozen skies.

"We've got damage on some of the plants, and we probably won't be going to market this week," said Rose Koenig, who owns Rosie's Organic Farm. "Some of the crops, like lettuce, are really tender. When it freezes, it makes the leaves brown and it's not marketable."

Koenig said Friday's freeze wasn't the only reason for her crops' poor performance.

Weeks of cold weather and occasional freezes have slowed plant growth, setting harvest and production at Rosie's two weeks to three weeks behind schedule.

Mike Westrich, owner of the 39th Avenue Nursery, said his foliage fared better. While months of frosts and cold freezes have slowed business, the health of his stocks hasn't been better.

"We had to cover all the material with what they call frost cloth," Westrich said. "We had a couple of pipes break, but other than that we didn't have too much damage."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Greg Bruno can be reached at 374-5026 or brunog@gvillesun.com.

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