Cold snap nips at our noses


John Bock walks with his hands inside of his shirt to keep warm Wednesday afternoon while heading home on SW 13th Street. Bock said he lost his coat while at a New Year's party and was just trying to make it home to get out of the cold.

BRANDON KRUSE/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

Thirty-three degrees - the low temperature in Gainesville on Tuesday night - is one thing.

Eighteen degrees - the temperature expected to hit the area on Wednesday night or early this morning - is another entirely, said farmers and others whose welfare depends on the weather.

"We made it through last night just fine, but I expect something a little rougher tonight," said Vernon Eddy, who owns a farm with citrus trees and other produce near the University of Florida. "It's going to get cold out there."

The National Weather Service predicted that temperatures would plummet to 18 degrees in Gainesville overnight, which would make it the coldest night in at least five years, said meteorologist Phil Peterson.

The all-time record low in Gainesville for Jan. 2 was set in 1928 at 15 degrees, Peterson said.

"So there is some good news," Peterson said. "Eighty years ago, it was even colder."

The cold snap led the National Weather Service to declare a hard-freeze warning, during which temperatures stay below 27 degrees for more than two hours, from 7 p.m. Wednesday to 10 a.m. today in Alachua County.

Gary Brinen, an extension agent for the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida, said unusually warm temperatures late last month yielded some early-blooming strawberry plants, meaning farmers have even more fruit to protect from the cold than they normally would this time of year.

The cold nights also have sparked worries among area homeless advocates.

"When the temperature gets this low, it's about survival more than it is about being comfortable," said Jon DeCarmine, the executive director of the Gainesville/Alachua County office on homelessness.

Statewide, the cold snap led transportation officials to ease highway restrictions on transporting fruit to allow farmers to quickly harvest and ship out crops that would otherwise be zapped by the cold temperatures.

Warren Henderson, who owns a citrus farm near Hawthorne, said he was employing that strategy by picking all the ripe fruit he could on Wednesday.

"I'm going to leave anything that isn't ripe and just see whether or not it fares well through the cold weather," Henderson said. "One year, I picked a lot of fruit, but then the temperatures didn't get as cold as they said. Now, I pick some, but I take my chances and leave some on."

The mad rush to cover strawberry plants with synthetic blankets or shower citrus trees with water kept some farmers away from Gainesville's farmers' market on Wednesday afternoon.

Charlie Lybrand, marketing director for the farmers' market, said he expected the weather to keep both merchants and shoppers at home.

"Anytime you work outdoors, this kind of weather will slow you down," said Lybrand, who was selling locally produced honey from a booth at the market on Wednesday.

Wayne Sprayberry and Chris Cox, who spent Wednesday outdoors on property-surveying jobs throughout Gainesville, said they couldn't agree more.

"I wouldn't say we're scared about the cold, but we're not looking forward to it," Cox said. "But if you don't like the cold in Florida, just wait a minute - it'll change."

Peterson said temperatures will slowly climb back to seasonal norms by the end of the week, with today's high expected to reach 49 degrees and Friday's expected to be 59 degrees.

"After what we've been seeing, 59 degrees is going to feel relatively balmy," Peterson said.

Amy Reinink can be reached at 352-374-5088 or reinina@gvillesun.com.

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