Temperatures reach 23 degrees


Published: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 12:54 a.m.
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Bradley Ferguson of Straughn Farms in Windsor, Florida inspects the tops of blueberry bushes that were intentionally frozen to keep the flowers from falling below 32 degrees as early morning temperatures dipped into the 20's .

Rob C. Witzel / The Gainesville Sun
Temperatures dropped early Thursday morning to 23 degrees, the second-lowest mark this winter.
The coldest morning of the season was on Dec. 21, when temperatures dipped to 22 degrees, said Jason Hess, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Jacksonville.
Area farmers were faced with some extra work the night before the freeze, making preparations to ensure that their crops weren't damaged by the freezing weather.
Ken Patterson, a blueberry farmer in Island Grove, which is just south of Hawthorne, had to monitor temperatures through the night and run overhead sprinklers to coat his plants with about a half-inch of ice. That kept the plants insulated from the icy air and at right around 32 degrees, keeping them safe from damage, he said.
"You just have to keep applying water," he said. "We started at 10 last night and shut it off at 10 this morning."
Bradley Ferguson, who works on his grandfather's 120-acre blueberry field in Windsor, said once the temperature dropped to 30 degrees, they knew it would keep falling. They decided to turn on the overhead sprinklers. Workers had to monitor the sprinklers through the night to make sure no water lines had broken and that they were functioning correctly, he said.
"The plants themselves won't die from the temperature," Ferguson said. "But at this point in the year a lot of the plants have flowers opening. When the flowers have opened the temperature can kill them."
Even with the sprinklers, a small percentage of the crop's flowers were damaged, but it won't create a significant financial loss for Ferguson and his family, he said.
Once the thermometer reads 28 degrees or below, many berry and citrus crops are prone to damage, and if those temperatures continue for four or more hours citrus farmers can face major harm to their crops, said Casey Pace, spokeswoman for Florida Citrus Mutual.
The cold temperatures didn't reach far enough south to do any significant damage to the crops of major citrus growers, she said. Most of Florida's citrus production ends north of Lake County. "There was some frost throughout the areas, so there could be some minor fruit and tree damage," she said.
The area escaped freezing temperatures Wednesday morning due to wind that kept the cold air from hovering, but Wednesday night and Thursday morning was calm enough to allow the icy temperatures to settle in.
"To get that really cold night we need that wind to diminish to get that freeze," Hess said.
Thursday morning's freezing temperatures, which were ushered in along with the system that brought arctic temperatures and dumped snow on the Northeast, will probably be the season's last, he said.
"It does look like this may have been the last," Hess said. "In February, the days get longer and it's a lot harder to get that freeze."
Thursday's temperatures warmed up into the lower 60s, and the weather is expected to gradually warm into the weekend and reach near 70 degrees on Sunday. Lows for the weekend are expected to be in the mid-40s, which is the normal temperature for this time of year.
Forecasters are expecting a slight chance rain today, with those chances increasing as it approaches Saturday night, Hess said.

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