Freeze may reach 18 degrees in Gainesville


Published: Tuesday, January 1, 2008 at 7:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 1, 2008 at 7:49 p.m.

Farmers will be tossing and turning in their beds tonight, fretting about their crops and praying forecasts of 18 degrees don't come to fruition.

An arctic cold front blew south from Canada on New Years Day, arriving in North Central Florida Tuesday, putting an end to what had been a warm winter. The high Tuesday was 69 degrees and the National Weather Service expected the temperature to drop to 26 degrees by this morning, with a high of 43 degrees in the afternoon.

"That sets the stage for the real cold night, which is (tonight) into Thursday morning, when the low will be in the upper teens," said Jason Deese meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jacksonville.

While 60 consecutive hours of temperatures below 50 degrees might make Floridians act like hermits, the expected 9-14 mph winds are guaranteed to send people in by the fire. With those winds, the wind chill Thursday morning could feel like 8 degrees, according to the Weather Service.

With forecasted lows of 18 degrees tonight in Alachua County, farmers could be facing between eight and 12 hours of sub-freezing temperatures. In Dixie County, lows are expected to reach 15 Thursday morning.

Because of the long warm spell last week, many plants are now extremely vulnerable to freeze damage, farmers said.

"We're just coming into strawberry production and they're really, really nice and we'd hate to lose that crown fruit," said Roy Brown who owns Brown's Farm in Orange Heights. "It's been so warm that really everything is susceptible to some type of frost damage."

Brown has started preparing for the freeze by taking steps to protect the strawberry plants, but Brown said for vegetables and some of the lower-grossing crops all he can really do is hope for the best.

"I'm securing some of my green houses, checking the pipes, putting out row covers," Brown said.

He'll check the thermometer throughout the night and turn on sprinklers when it hits 32 degrees, he said. The water creates a protective "ice house" over the fruit.

"As you apply water, a small amount, continuously apply it, it keeps the water on the strawberries at 32 degrees, and 32 degrees is OK on a strawberry," Brown said.

If the predictions are accurate, Brown said the only thing he can do is pull the covers over his head and try to get some sleep.

At Don King's farm in Hague the strawberries are being protected by row covers a spun-polyester fabric that is placed over the plants, trapping in heat.

"I might have to put two layers on it. The ones I have on will probably protect me down to 26 to 27 degrees," King said.

Citrus fruit is also in danger from the frost, but few citrus trees grow in Alachua County because winters are too cold.

But Vernon Eddy, who owns an orchard in Gainesville near University Commons, has had success with his citrus trees.

In all the time he has been farming at that location, Eddy said he has never lost a crop to a freeze.

"Never of course I could I'm not going to brag too heavy," Eddy said. "Maybe it's where we're at right here, maybe it's a little warmer."

He also said the large oak trees that hang over his citrus trees help keep them warm in the winter as well.

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