Bitter cold blasts Florida in record-setting night; damage toll rising
by Chip Carter | December 27, 2010
TAMPA, FL -- Bitter cold blasted Florida as far south as Homestead Dec. 27
and in the early hours of Dec. 28. It was the coldest night of what has to date
been one of the more brutal Decembers in state history. Low temperature
records were shattered in several areas in Florida, and the thermometer is
again expected to dip below freezing Dec. 28-29 in parts of the state.
Tomatoes and row crops -- already hard hit by freeze events the weeks of
Dec. 6 and 13 -- were clobbered again by temperatures that dipped as low as
17 degrees in some production areas. Some citrus growers were said to be
cutting solid ice in fruit, and fear twig and small limb damage. Strawberries
survived the blast again, but growers lost more production time in what is
typically one of their more profitable months.
David Griffis of the University of Florida's Institute of Food & Agricultural
Sciences said that lows of 23 degrees were recorded in citrus-producing
Pierson and Volusia counties, the coldest night of the season, resulting in icy
Temperatures in the citrus-growing areas along the Indian River area
dropped below freezing after midnight and continued to plummet. Some
areas recorded temperatures below 28 degrees for an hour or two, but so
significant damage was expected, according to Tim Gaver of IFAS.
George Casey, a berry grower in Brooksville, FL (about an hour north of
Tampa) recorded a low of 17 degrees and sustained temperatures well below
freezing for several hours.
Lows in the mid-20s were recorded in Wauchula in the center of the state,
with moderate frost but little crop damage due to successful mitigation efforts
aided by a lack of wind.
Immokalee in southwest Florida, home to much of the state’s tomato and row
crop production, reached the freezing point at 11:30 p.m. and remained
below 32 degrees until 8 a.m., with a low of 25 degrees. "What crops that
made it through the last freeze probably will not make it through this one,"
said Jerry Hubbart of the Immokalee Farmers Market. The area was covered
with a thick layer of frost the morning of Dec. 28 and Mr. Hubbart said, “I
have not seen it this white for this long in a very long time.”
Palm Beach County reached 30 degrees, and Homestead in deep southeast
Florida had lows between 30 and 32 degrees for six to eight hours. Any
exposed crops that survived earlier freeze events and were not aided by
overhead irrigation undoubtedly sustained damage, said Paul Cardwell of the
Homestead State Farmers Market.
Strawberries fared well despite temperatures in the low 20s in Plant City, FL,
where most of the state’s production is centered. Ted Campbell of the Florida
Strawberry Growers Association said that a lack of wind let growers evenly
cover fruit in the fields in a protective layer of ice; sporadic pump failures did
lead to some product damage.
Of bigger concern to strawberry growers is the loss of a valuable market
window. By Christmas 2009, Florida strawberry growers had harvested almost
10,000 acres of berries. Through Christmas of this year, that number tallied
around 2000 acres.