Hard freeze grips parts of region


Straughn Blueberry Farm worker Filomeno Rojo checks on sprinklers used to protect the trees from a morning freeze Tuesday in Windsor.
A tree located on the outskirts of the blueberry farm collects ice from the spray of sprinklers.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 1:35 a.m.
Temperatures dropped into the mid-20s Monday night, bringing Alachua County its coldest night of the winter so far and providing rural parts of the county with their first hard freeze.
National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Zappe said it got as cold as 27 degrees at Gainesville Regional Airport early Tuesday morning - not the low of 23 degrees forecasters had predicted.
Zappe said temperatures in Gainesville probably didn't stay at 27 degrees long enough to be considered a hard freeze, which occurs when temperatures stay below 28 degrees for more than two hours.
But in outlying parts of the county, temperatures hovered around 26 degrees for a few hours, making for a long night for farmers striving to protect their crops.
Alto Straughn, who farms blueberries and other crops in Alachua County, said he and his employees started freeze-protecting blueberry plants Monday night by showering them with water from irrigation sprinklers to form a protective icy shell around the damage-prone berries and flowers.
The process continued into Tuesday morning, when temperatures stayed below freezing for hours after the sun came up, Straughn said.
"This is definitely the coldest weather this winter so far," Straughn said. "Hopefully we won't see anything colder this year, but I wouldn't count on it. We've still got the whole month of February and the beginning of March."
Alachua County remained under a National Weather Service freeze warning until 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Temperatures were expected to start a slow upward climb, with highs reaching the 70s by the end of the week, Zappe said.
Zappe said temperatures were expected to stay at or above 34 degrees on Tuesday night, with outlying spots making a possible quick dip below freezing.
"But if there are any freezing temperatures, they will be brief - an hour at the most - which means we don't have a freeze watch or warning," Zappe said.
Straughn said he wasn't taking any chances, and planned to carefully monitor the weather Tuesday night and early this morning, just in case.
"We've got to be very careful on marginal nights like these," Straughn said. "We'll keep someone up monitoring the temperature, because the weather people aren't always right. We saw the good side of that last night, when it didn't get as cold as it was supposed to. We don't want to end up on the wrong end of it tonight."
Amy Reinink can be reached at 352-374-5088 or reinina@gvillesun.com

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