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Hard freeze surprises Florida as Arctic front stabs deep into Southeast

by Chip Carter | January 12, 2011
TAMPA, FL -- Florida farmers scrambled to protect already battered crops from yet another hard freeze that surprised much of the state in the early hours of Jan. 13. Forecasts initially called for temperatures near freezing, but as the evening of Jan. 12 progressed, frigid winds frosted north and central Florida as temperatures dipped into the low 20s with winds gusting to 20 mph and chill factors in the teens.

A high-pressure Arctic front pushed into the Deep South in the latter hours of Jan. 12 and will persist through Jan. 13 and into the early hours of Jan. 14 before beginning to break up, according to the National Weather Service.

Strawberry growers in Plant City, FL, ran sprinklers from early evening Jan. 12 until well after dawn Jan. 13 to protect a crop just recovering from multiple sub-freezing nights in December.

While most citrus-production areas of the state were spared duration of temperatures cold enough to do damage, some growers still misted groves to protect crops in transition from early- to mid-season varieties.

Row crops and tomatoes, both devastated by December's freezes, were spared further damage as the Jan. 12-13 cold front stalled north of major production areas.

The National Weather Service issued hard freeze warnings for north and west-central Florida through the early hours of Jan. 13, and temperatures dipped as low as 25 degrees in Ocala, FL, about an hour north of Tampa. A hard freeze watch is in effect for those same areas Jan. 13-14, as temperatures are again projected to dip well below freezing for several hours between dusk and dawn.

In Pasco, Hillsborough and Polk counties -- home to most of the state's strawberry crop and some of its citrus -- a freeze watch is in effect for Jan. 13-14, meaning freezing temperatures are again possible, though not as severe as Jan. 12-13. Temperatures in those areas are expected to bottom out in the upper 20s to low 30s, with two to four hours of sub-freezing temperatures possible.

Daytime temperatures Jan. 12 hovered in the 50s -- some 20 degrees cooler than average -- and were projected to rise into the 60s Jan. 13, with a return to normal temperatures over the weekend of Jan. 15-16.

The December freezes have already hurt Florida's economy to the tune of at least $250 million, with damage to some crops still being tallied.

While Floridians shivered through the latest chill, they took some solace in the fact that Florida is the only one of the 50 states without snow on the ground at the moment. Even Hawaii has been touched by this winter's brashness, with the National Weather Service reporting seven inches of snow atop Mauna Kea on Jan. 11.

Ironically, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration announced Jan. 12 that 2010 was the warmest year recorded worldwide since 1880, tying 2005 for that distinction. It was the 23rd warmest year on record for the United States.