A lingering cold

Forecast calls for freezing temperatures into the weekend

Butterfly expert Nicole Wedell-Von Leupoldt, right, discusses the different species of butterflies during a tour at the Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History on Monday. Workers have covered the rainforest due to the cold temperatures and placed portable heaters inside.

Aaron E. Daye/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 4, 2010 at 10:02 p.m.

Want warmer weather? Keep heading south, maybe to the Caribbean.

Temperatures bottomed out in the 20s in North Florida early Monday with Gainesville hitting a low of 26 degrees and Ocala 27 degrees.

Residents and snowbirds who were hoping to escape the frozen North should expect more of the same over the next several days. A second arctic air mass is expected to move into the state later in the week after a slight warm-up with highs in the 50s and lows still at or near freezing Thursday, according to forecasts.

That air mass should keep things cold at least through the weekend, with lows in the area predicted in the low 20s.

Parts of south Georgia could see snow flurries later this week when a storm system pushes south Thursday, forecasts predicted. The same hazardous weather advisory mentioning flurries covers North Florida, although current forecasts say snow isn't likely here.

Even South Florida might not be far enough south for some seeking warmth in the Sunshine State. Miami and the Keys have projected high temperatures no greater than the 60s this week.

The jet stream has dipped to the south this year, allowing freezing air from Canada to push farther south than normal, meteorologist Eric Zappe with the National Weather Service in Jacksonville said Monday.

The area's recent cold lows still haven't broken records so far, although the readings are at least 20 degrees below normal. And it's not just recent temperatures that are out of the ordinary. It was 1960 when Gainesville last experienced nine consecutive days with temperatures of 32 degrees or less, according to the weather service.

With more than a week of freezing weather forecast, that record could be in jeopardy. This morning would be the fourth consecutive day of freezing temperatures.

Since the weekend in Gainesville, businesses have been fielding questions that have little to do with Florida's typical southern climate.

Customers have been calling about getting their pipes insulated to prevent them from freezing, said Bob Kavanaugh, owner of B&H Plumbing in Gainesville. An employee with ASAP Plumbing said complaints about frozen pipes already have started. Those calls haven't begun at Quality Plumbing of Gainesville, but an employee there said it's still early in the week and that the coldest lows are on the way.

The coldest night expected so far in Gainesville and Ocala will be tonight, with lows expected at 20 to 23 degrees.

Garden Gate Nursery in Gainesville ran out of freeze cloth over the weekend as residents headed in to protect their plants. The store was scheduled to have more today, manager Judy Brown said. Other cover that can be used, besides a regular cloth or plastic, are layers of hay or pine needles that can insulate small plants that are lower to the ground.

Tropical plants already should be indoors if possible, she said. Recent rain helped protect plants, but now residents need to remember to water plants around midday when it's warmer to prevent more damage from dry soil.

People have been turning up the heat at home to stay warm, Gainesville Regional Utilities reported. The peak usage Monday morning was 398 megawatts. Typical use on a winter day is 270 to 280, GRU spokeswoman Kim Jamerson said. The all-time winter peak occurred last year on Feb. 6 when usage hit 445 megawatts.

Over the weekend, one woman in her 60s was taken to an area hospital for treatment after she woke up shaking because her electric blanket had stopped working, said Carol Davis, spokeswoman for Alachua County and Gainesville Fire Rescue.

So far, the call is the only health-related report related to the cold.

But medical and health personnel are warning people to be careful over the next few days.

Dr. Kevin Ferguson, associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Florida, said people should dress in layers of clothes to provide better insulation. Use hats and scarves to keep warmer longer, as well as gloves since fingers can radiate heat quickly. Ferguson, who works in the emergency department at Shands, also said warm fluids such as hot chocolate, not alcohol, are better to keep someone warm. Alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate, in which heat is lost faster.

Hypothermia can occur even at cool temperatures above 40 degrees, said Paul Myers with the Alachua County Health Department. Among those most susceptible are the elderly, babies and the homeless. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, memory loss and drowsiness.

An infant's skin will become bright red and cold.

The Cold Night Shelter Program already is in place in Alachua County for homeless people. It allows the St. Francis House to house more people than its normal capacity during cold spells and provides vouchers in some cases for stays at an area hotel. The program is funded by the city and county and operated by the Alachua County Housing Authority, the St. Francis House and the Gainesville/Alachua County Office on Homeless, said that office's executive director, Jayne Moraski.

It likely will stay busy this week.

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