Cold records are shattered across Florida

By: MSNBC.com
By: MSNBC.com

MIAMI - Floridians might have had enough of Mother Nature, but she hasn't had enough of Florida: Parts of the state woke up to record cold on Monday as farmers yet again checked fields for damage.

Miami on Monday morning set a record low of 36 degrees Fahrenheit, a degree colder than the previous record set for a Jan. 11 set in 1927. The city on Sunday had tied the Jan. 10 record.

Records for a Jan. 11 were also set Monday in Tallahassee (14 F), Brooksville (15 F), Gainesville (17 F), Tampa (25 F), Sarasota (28 F), St. Petersburg (33 F), Fort Myers (31 F) and West Palm Beach (33 F).

A freeze watch will continue through South Florida throughout the day.

Freezing overnight temperatures inflicted varying damage on the fruit in Florida's northern and central citrus growing regions, although the losses did not appear to be catastrophic.

"I would say that there is probably widespread light damage and some considerable to heavy fruit damage," Ray Royce, head of the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association in central Florida, told Reuters. Highlands County is the second largest citrus producing county in Florida.

Florida, whose $9.3 billion citrus industry produces more than three-quarters of the U.S. orange crop and accounts for about 40 percent of the world's orange juice supply, was hit over the past week by successive nights of unusually low freezing temperatures.

Overnight Sunday had seen the harshest freeze yet, and cumulatively, this had taken a toll on the citrus crop, Royce and other growers said.

They said many growing areas had remained for several hours below the key 28 F level. Typically, citrus crops get damaged if temperatures fall to 28 F or below for four or more hours.

"What I'm seeing here is 30 percent penetration of ice in the fruit," John Arnold, owner of the Showcase of Citrus in south Lake County, in the state's northern growing region, told Reuters.
"But it is not catastrophic, we still have citrus that can be picked."

Royce said many growers had been "cutting ice" this morning as they sliced through fruit to check for damage.

Freeze-damaged fruit cannot be marketed as fresh fruit and also loses some of its juice.

"There is no doubt we will see juice reduction in a lot of fruit, to what extent I don't know," Royce said. But, he added: "In the great overall scheme of things, we are not at some catastrophic level".

Average highs in central Florida this time of year are in the lows 70s.

The long cold spell has impacted other types of farmers as well.

About 100,000 tropical fish being raised on a fish farm in South Florida couldn't bear the cold. Michael Breen, who owns Breen Acres Aquatics in the small town of Loxahatchee Groves just north of Miami, said temperatures dropped below 30 degrees overnight Saturday, leaving ice on his 76 ponds.

The ponds should be green because of algae bloom that feeds baby fish, he said.

"But all the ponds are crystal clear and fish are laying on the bottom. What we see on the surface died two days ago," he said, referring to the dead fish found floating Sunday morning.

Breen estimated he lost $535,000 in business because of the cold.

Breen said his Florida town, which raises everything from tropical birds and fish to organic produce and palm trees, was holding on to the little that was left from the cold.

"Everybody is just wiped out. It's that bad," he said.

Also over the weekend, Miami Metrozoo shut its doors for the first time in at least 30 years because it was too cold.

Atlanta's zoo was closed because the trails were iced over, officials said. Temperatures in Atlanta stayed in the 30s over the weekend with lows in the teens. The average high for Atlanta is in the 50s with lows in the 30s.

In a suburb north of Atlanta, two teens died Saturday after falling through the ice on a partially frozen pond. The surviving teen was in stable condition at a hospital, said Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services Capt. Tommy Rutledge. He said the three, ages 13 to 15, were playing and sliding on the semi-frozen pond when the ice broke.

"I'm sure that that frozen over pond was probably enticing to the kids," he said.

Ice does not freeze uniformly with some spots only an inch thick, he said. They had been warning children to stay off frozen-over ponds, he said.

In Vermont, state police said a snowmobiling accident on a partially frozen lake killed three people Saturday, including a 3-year-old girl.

Police say three snowmobiles carrying a total of six people went through ice on Lake Dunmore near Salisbury at around noon Saturday. Killed were: 50-year-old Kevin Flynn, of Whiting; 24-year-old Carrie Flynn, of Whiting; and 3-year-old Bryanna Popp.


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