Cold snap gripping Gulf states threatens Florida crop


Icicles cling to oranges Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010, in Lakeland, Fla. Farmers spray their crops to help protect them against the cold temperatures. Temperatures in the area dipped into the mid-20's, and farmers are working to salvage millions of dollars' worth of strawberries and other crops.

Chris O'Meara/The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 6:50 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 6:50 a.m.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Florida farmers worked to salvage millions of dollars worth of crops and sun-seeking tourists were met with chilly temperatures expected to last through the weekend as an unusual Southern cold snap gripped the Gulf states on Wednesday.

A hard freeze warning was issued along the Gulf Coast, including most of Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. Forecasters say the dangerously cold air mass could force temperatures into the teens in parts of the region by Thursday.

Subfreezing temperatures along with heavy snow also hit parts of New England and created treacherous roads. In western New York, a woman and her infant daughter were killed late Tuesday when their car slid and slammed into a sport utility vehicle towing a trailer with two snowmobiles along a snow-covered roadway.

In central and south Florida, farmers were trying to salvage citrus and vegetable crops by spraying them in protective layers of ice and covering them in plastic. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed an executive order Wednesday that gave the state's Division of Emergency Management and other agencies the authority to provide farmers with assistance.

Weather in the South this time of year is typically chilly for just a day or two before temperatures rebound into the 50s. Many homes weren't built to handle such cold, with uninsulated pipes and heat pumps that must continuously run to keep things barely comfortable.

Miami Meteorologist Dan Dixon said Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach were expected to approach or set record-low overnight temperatures Wednesday morning. The game-time temperature for the Orange Bowl between Georgia Tech and Iowa was 49 degrees in Miami, which FOX-TV announcers said was a record for the annual college football game that started in 1935.

Vacationing college students from Ohio, Tara McCourry and Stephen McFarren, walked hand-in-hand along picturesque Pensacola Beach Tuesday, one of the few people braving the 27-degree wind chill. The couple watched pelicans, admired seashells and adjusted their hats and gloves as they buffered themselves against the wind.

"This is my first time in Florida and Florida is not supposed to be cold like this," McCourry said.

Charleston, S.C., was expecting subfreezing overnight lows all week. Parts of West Virginia could see 4 to 8 inches of snow by Wednesday morning. A dusting of snow fell in western and central Kentucky overnight, heralding 3 to 5 inches expected in those areas, with some locally heavier amounts.

Cold weather has moved across the eastern U.S., leaving behind record snowfall in some areas. In northeast Ohio, another 5 to 6 inches of snow fell Tuesday in an area already covered by 2 feet of snow, according to the National Weather Service.

Police in Erie County, N.Y., said Stephanie Ali, 22, lost control of her car Tuesday evening and crossed over into oncoming traffic in Grand Island, northwest of Buffalo near Niagara Falls. Ali and her 5-month-old daughter were killed. Investigators said the SUV driver could not have avoid hitting her.

In Vermont, the bad weather was blamed for several car accidents on slushy, slick roadways. In Hinesburg, a police officer was investigating a single-vehicle crash on Tuesday night when his cruiser was struck from behind by a teenager driving on roads that were covered in ice because of freezing rain. Minor injuries and vehicle damage were reported.

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