Low may break century-old record

Alicia Simonds, left, and Jessica Woods stay bundled up on their walk along Southwest 13th Street in Gainesville on Tuesday. "It's horrible," said Woods. "I want the hot."

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 10:49 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 10:49 a.m.

Tuesday's high temperature was 20 degrees lower than Gainesville's average for this time of year, and the Arctic blast expected today may shatter a record on the books since 1900, the National Weather Service in Jacksonville is predicting.


Some facts about the cold in Gainesville

Coldest temperature ever recorded in Gainesville: 11.7 on Feb. 15, 1899.
Tuesday's high temperature: 46 degrees.
Average high for this time of year: 66 degrees.
Tuesday's low temperature: 29 degrees, recorded at 7:40 a.m., as winds died down.
Wednesday's predicted low: 21 degrees.
Wednesday's record low: 22 degrees, set in 1900.

National Weather Service forecast for Gainesville:

Tuesday night: Mostly clear, with a low around 19. West wind around 5 mph becoming calm.
Wednesday: Sunny, with a high near 54. Wind chill values between 15 and 25 early. Calm wind becoming west around 6 mph.
Wednesday night: Patchy frost after 1 a.m. Otherwise, mostly clear, with a low around 29. Calm wind becoming west around 5 mph.
Thursday: Sunny, with a high near 65. West wind between 5 and 14 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph.
Thursday night: Mostly clear, with a low around 37.
Friday: Sunny, with a high near 67.
Friday night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 43.
Saturday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 71.
Saturday night: A 20 percent chance of showers. Partly cloudy, with a low around 49.
Sunday: A 20 percent chance of showers. Partly sunny, with a high near 71.
Sunday night: A 20 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 50.
Monday: A 20 percent chance of showers. Partly sunny and breezy, with a high near 69.

Source: National Weather Services, Jacksonville

But amid all the bundling up and the rush to cover freeze-sensitive outdoor plants, Nick West, owner of West Farms Landscaping Services of Gainesville, sees an upside.

"It helps control the insect population in the spring," said West, who raises landscaping plants such as sabal palms, palmetto, azaleas and cold-hardy roses. The roses, too, will benefit from the cold snap, he predicted.

"They will give you knock-out color in the spring," he said.

And others -- such as Josh Coaten, general manager at Bertie's Heating & Air Conditioning -- are seeing green in lower mercury readings.

"We like a little cold snap," he said. "This is when you find out if your heating is working."

The National Weather Service in Jacksonville recorded Tuesday's low of 29 degrees in Gainesville at 7:40 a.m. -- right after the wind died down, soon after the sun came up. So the hard frost that had been predicted overnight did not occur.

But today's predicted low of 21 will be meeting the criteria for a hard frost -- temperatures lower than 27 for several hours -- and then some. A low of 21 would break the record for Jan. 4 of 22 degrees set back in 1900, according to National Weather Service Meteorologist David Shuler.

Dan Jesse, spokesman for Gainesville Regional Utilities, said the utility is bracing for utilization to jump from Tuesday's peak demand of 284 megawatts to 405 megawatts of demand today. That's still well shy of the summer peak demand record of 485 megawatts on Aug. 8, 2007, but not far from the peak winter demand that reached 468 megawatts on Jan. 8, 2010.

Jesse said GRU is urging residents to take steps to heat safely and efficiently. Among the key pointers:

-- Don't try to heat a house with gas heat from the stove.

-- Set the thermostat for 68 degrees -- since each degree adds an estimated 4 percent to heating costs.

--Keep pipes from freezing by letting water drip or wrapping blankets or thermal tape around exposed pipes.

--Turn the heat off if you're going to be out of the house for a number of hours.

But he added: "If you prefer not to have your house too cold when you return, at least lower the thermostat as much as you can live with."

West Farms' Nick West said he would prefer not to spend any part of this season scrambling to shelter from the cold the plants he raises for the entrances to apartment complexes and businesses.

But there are some exceptions. On Monday, he built a structure to keep the hibiscus he planted in the ground last year from suffering from the cold's bite.

"For sentimental reasons -- my father-in-law gave them to us," he said.

Bob Ulanowicz of Gainesville, retired from Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, said he has planted to withstand the annual plunges into the 20s. His citrus includes cold-hardy satsumas, Hamlin oranges and calamondin from the lime family. Most of the time, they don't need babying, he said.

Still, he said North Florida offers a strange sort of no-man's-land for some freeze-sensitive plants.

"It's too cold for the tropicals, but doesn't give you enough chill for many of the perennials," he said.

Statewide, temperatures on Tuesday night and this morning plummeted to freezing, as well.

Forecasters at the National Weather Service said Pensacola, Tallahassee and Jacksonville were in the teens overnight. The Tampa Bay area and central Florida was in the 20s. Even places like Miami struggled to hit 40 degrees.

And the freezing temperatures inland will probably last for five or six hours, which could significantly impact fruit and vegetable crops, said Logan Johnson, a forecaster at the National Weather Service.

Farmers in the central and southern parts of the state were on alert Tuesday, hoping to not lose their crops to the cold. In 2010, crops were heavily damaged by freezing temperatures.

Strawberry farmers in places like Plant City planned to be up all night to turn on sprinklers to spray water on the tender fruit. The water will freeze and provide insulation.

Johnson said a strong cold front from Canada is causing the weather. "It's been very warm these past few weeks and the plants aren't acclimated to the cold," said Johnson, adding that it was 80 degrees on Christmas in much of Central Florida.

Johnson said it will gradually warm up again today and into the weekend.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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