It's the big chill


Published: Friday, January 16, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 10:34 p.m.

Button up your overcoat and pull your hat on tight. The freezing weather will be with us for at least another night.

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Morning frost blankets the grass as Talbot Elementary School second-grader Austin Kramer participates in the school's "Morning Mile" on Thursday.

DOUG FINGER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The National Weather Service has issued a rare wind chill advisory for Gainesville, Ocala and the rest of the region because of an Arctic air mass that began moving into the state late Thursday.

The system is expected to bring record or near-record low temperatures for a couple of days - with overnight lows in the teens possible.

"The entire eastern half of the country has been affected by this air mass," said Matt Zibura, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service Office in Jacksonville. "Even after it modifies - after it moves south and weakens - it won't warm up to normal anytime soon because we will still be under an upper-level trough that will keep the cold weather in place."

The weather service said a wind chill advisory will remain in effect until 10 a.m. today in Alachua, Marion and most other North Florida counties. According to the weather service, a wind chill advisory means "very cold air and strong winds will combine to generate low wind chills. This will result in frostbite and lead to hypothermia if precautions are not taken. If you must venture outdoors, make sure you wear a hat and gloves."

During the advisory, actual low temperatures are forecast to fall into the mid- to upper 20s inland and low 30s along the coastlines, while a 10 to 15 mph north wind will create a wind chill as low as 15 degrees inland and near 20 degrees in coastal areas.

The forecast for sub-freezing temperatures prompted Gov. Charlie Crist to issue a state of emergency so that some highway restrictions around Florida could be lifted. Easing restrictions on truck heights and weights are expected to make it easier to harvest and transport crops that could be damaged by the freezing weather.

Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson issued a news release to explain the importance of the relaxed restrictions.

"This time of year is particularly critical for Florida's growers, who produce nearly all of our nation's domestically produced fresh fruits and vegetables during the winter months," Bronson said. "There's a lot at stake here - not just for our state's farmers, but for consumers all across the United States who count on Florida to provide them with fresh produce in the dead of winter."

Bronson's office said Florida has 40,000 commercial farmers who grow more than 280 different crops. Florida produces more than 35 billion pounds of food and more than 1.5 million tons of livestock feed.

The Sunshine State is the ninth biggest agricultural producer nationwide, including being the top U.S. citrus producer and second biggest producer of vegetables and horticulture products.

In Levy County, meanwhile, someone apparently viewed the dangerously cold weather as an opportunity to get rid of a litter of 14 puppies by abandoning them. A search is under way to find whoever dumped the puppies off in a remote area.

The 4- to 5-week-old puppies were found shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday outside Bronson on Blue Springs Road near Alt. U.S. 27. Levy County sheriff's Sgt. Carl Rogers said the puppies appeared cold and dehydrated but expressed their excitement at seeing him by running toward him and licking him.

In a news release issued Thursday about the puppies, sheriff's spokesman Capt. Evan Sullivan said: "If the puppies were not located, it is believed that the puppies would have died due to the cold weather last night." He said abandoning the puppies in the cold is considered a felony because of the cruelty involved.

Levy County Animal Services officer Richard Hall took the puppies to the animal shelter, where they will be held until Saturday. Director David Weatherford said a canine rescue group will nurture the puppies back to health before they will be available for adoption.

Anyone with information about who abandoned the puppies is asked to call the Levy County Sheriff's Office at 352-486-5111. Callers who prefer to remain anonymous can call Crime Stoppers toll-free at 877-349-8477.

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