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Second sub-freezing night averted in Florida as cloud cover moves in

by Chip Carter | January 13, 2011
Florida farmers dodged a bullet Jan. 13-14 when a second consecutive night of sub-freezing temperatures failed to materialize. In most of the state's production areas, high cloud cover moved in overnight and acted as a blanket to trap the ground's heat and keep temperatures from dropping to forecast levels.

The cloud cover settled in south of Hernando County, about an hour north of Tampa, FL, and west of Orlando. Most of the state's winter crops are produced south of Hernando County. In Brooksville, Hernando's county seat, temperatures dropped below freezing after midnight.

Meanwhile, in major production areas, temperatures were more moderate. Lows reached just 35 degrees in Hillsborough County (Tampa Bay) and in Plant City, home to most of the state's strawberry production. In Polk County, a citrus stalwart, lows dipped into the mid-30s. Row crops and tomatoes were spared further damage, as lows hit 42 in Immokalee (southwest Florida) and West Palm Beach (southeast Florida). In Belle Glade, on the eastern shores of Lake Okeechobee and home to sugar cane and row crops, temperatures were a relatively balmy 48 degrees.

Highs in the low 60s are expected across most of the state Jan. 14, with a continual warmup through the weekend and a return to normal temperatures in the 70s by Monday, Jan. 17.

Last month was the coldest December on record in Florida, with temperatures averaging 30 degrees below normal. Temperatures as cold as 17 degrees were noted in some production areas, and records fell across the state. Sunny Daytona Beach reached a bone-chilling 24 degrees Dec. 27, and temperatures in the 20s were recorded as far south as Belle Glade and West Palm Beach. Even the southernmost areas of the state recorded multiple nights of sub- freezing temperatures.

Meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Tampa said that a high pressure system circulating over eastern Canada called the Arctic Oscillation left the door open for frigid winds to stab deep into the southeastern United States. That is the same weather pattern that led to more than 30 nights of sub-freezing weather for Florida farmers in January and February 2010 and resulted in an uncharacteristically cold December and January 2011 to date.

NWS meteorologists are optimistic that the Arctic Oscillation is breaking up. As it does so, a La Nina weather pattern will become more prominent, repositioning the high jet stream north of Interstate 4 (which bisects Florida east-west) and resulting in a warmer, dry winter for most Florida growers.