Cold may bring record low

University of Florida staff member Qingping Yany gathers carrots and other vegetable from her plot at the University of Florida AgGardens area Monday January 2, 2011 ahead of area temperatures that are expected to dip into the 20's by Wednesday in Gainesville, Fla.

Rob C. Witzel/Staff photographer
Published: Monday, January 2, 2012 at 8:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 2, 2012 at 8:03 p.m.

Grab those scarves. A cold wind is blowing.

A blast of Arctic air coming for the next few days is expected to shatter the record low set back in 1900 before the warm-up later in the week, according to the National Weather Service in Jacksonville.

Gainesville's record low for Wednesday is 22 degrees and the Weather Service's Jason Hess said that predictions are that it will be 21 degrees on that day. Tuesday morning is expected to feel even chillier than that, with gusty cold winds putting the “feels-like” temperature in the mid-teens, he said.

It's called the Arctic Express. And nursery owners are calling it the first extreme cold in several years. That means more tropical plants that might have thrived through the last few winters need extra care and perhaps cover. And kids need to be bundled up before the bus stop.

This one is straight from the North.

“It originates right there in the Canadian Rockies,” said Hess, a meteorologist.

The cold front will be dry. “We're not expecting any rain at all — mostly sunny skies all the way through into the weekend,” Hess said.

Hess said Monday that a hard freeze advisory put into effect on the second full night of 2012 is expected to continue into a second night tonight. During the day, high temperatures will reach up to 47 degrees Tuesday and then up to 54 Wednesday.

At Kingswood Nurseries in Ocala, a temperature drop this precipitous is nearly unprecedented, said Harold DeVane, who runs the business growing wholesale woody ornamental plants with his wife and son.

He said he'd have to think back to the 1980s to recall when the same pattern — warm weather and then a sudden and extreme cold snap — took hold in this area. He's put the 10 acres he has in production under a frost blanket.

“The plant material is not prepared for the cold they are forecasting,” DeVane said. “Usually, there's a hardening off period where it gets a little colder and then a little colder and they can take those temperatures.

“We're going from bright, sunny 70-80 degrees to close to 20 degrees — it's scary,” he added.

Alan Shapiro, who owns Grandiflora in Gainesville, said that pillow cases, sheets and blankets have added the look of an exploded clothes dryer to his front lawn, but the linens are his plants' best chance for surviving.

“The main thing is that people should drain all their pipes outside and forget about trying to water,” said Shapiro, who has been growing just about anything that can grow in this area on his 100-acre nursery.

He recommends cutting off the tops of anything tropical such as a hibiscus and covering the crown of the plant in pine straw to keep the heat in.

“Cover as much as possible,” he advised.

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