Arctic winds chill the South, threaten Fla. strawberry, tomato crops; blanket East in snow

By Jeffrey Collins, AP
Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Fla. farmers scramble to save crops from cold

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Subfreezing temperatures across the South have Florida farmers worried that strawberry, tomato and other crops could be destroyed, with temperatures in even usually balmy Miami only in the 50s on Tuesday.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed an executive order that gives the state’s Division of Emergency Management and other agencies the authority to provide growers with assistance. Throughout central and south Florida, farmers are trying to salvage millions of dollars worth of citrus and vegetable crops, spraying them in protective layers of ice and covering them in plastic.

“The problem now is that we have a weeklong freeze predicted,” said Ted Campbell, executive director for the Florida Strawberry Growers Association. “It’s an endurance test.”

Forecasters say the Southern deep freeze will last through the weekend, likely breaking records for continuous cold temperatures in many parts of Florida and elsewhere.

The eastern U.S. was not only dealing with subfreezing temperatures, but parts of New England were under record snowfall. In Burlington, a storm dumped more than 33 inches, breaking a single-storm record of nearly 30 inches set in 1969.

In northeast Ohio, forecasters say snow will continue to fall in areas that already have 2 feet or more on the ground. The National Weather Service said areas in the region’s “snow belt” could receive up to 8 more inches of lake-effect snow on Tuesday.

Four deaths were blamed on the cold in Tennessee.

The duration of the cold snap is unusual, especially in the South, where the weather is typically chilly for just a day or two before temperatures rebound into the 50s.

Waves of Arctic air pushed into central Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. Many Southern homes aren’t built to handle that type of cold, with uninsulated pipes and heat pumps that will have to run all the time just to keep things barely comfortable.

In Miami, the game-time temperature for the Orange Bowl between Georgia Tech and Iowa was 49 degrees, which FOX-TV announcers said was a record for the annual college football game that started in 1935.

Miami Meteorologist Dan Dixon said Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach were expected to approach or set record-low overnight temperatures Wednesday morning.

Vacationing college students from Ohio, Tara McCourry and Stephen McFarren, walked hand-in-hand along picturesque Pensacola Beach Tuesday, one of the few people braving the 27-degree wind chill. The couple watched pelicans, admired seashells and adjusted their hats and gloves as they buffered themselves against the wind.

“This is my first time in Florida and Florida is not supposed to be cold like this,” McCourry said.

Charleston, S.C., was expecting subfreezing overnight lows all week. Parts of West Virginia could see 4 to 8 inches of snow by Wednesday morning. A dusting of snow fell in western and central Kentucky overnight, heralding 3 to 5 inches expected in those areas, with some locally heavier amounts.

Searchers in Wisconsin found the body of a 7-year-old boy who fell through ice into a river while sledding with friends Monday.

The weather caused hundreds of school closings and delays in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, the North Carolina mountains and elsewhere.

Wrecks on icy roads killed at least two other people.

Homeless shelters, especially in the Southeast, braced for a crush of people and said they would not turn anyone away.

Reginald Richardson of Columbia hates shelters but said this might be the week he caves in and spends a few nights.

“Yes, Lord, it has been cold,” said the 55-year-old, who has been homeless on and off for the past 25 years. “It got so cold last night, I thought about sleeping in a trash can.”

Contributing to this report were David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md.; John Curran in Montpelier, Vt.; Tamara Lush in Tampa, Fla.; and John Raby in Charleston, W.Va.

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