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Mercury Stays Above Forecast Levels

By Robin Williams Adams, Bill Bair & John Chambliss

Published: Thursday, February 5, 2009 at 6:08 a.m.

Freezing temperatures were reported throughout Polk County Thursday morning, but the mercury stayed well above forecast levels.

While a low of 23 degrees had been forecast for Lakeland, the unofficial low at 5:50 a.m. at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport was 28. It was 32 at Bartow Airport at 6:15 a.m., 30 at Gilbert Field in Winter Haven, 27 in Lake Alfred and 30 in Frostproof.

Temperatures dropped a little more before sunrise. At 7 a.m. it was 29 at Bartow Airport. Gilbert Field in Winter Haven had a reading of 29 at 7:15 a.m. The Florida Automated Weather Network reported temperatures of 26 in Lake Alfred and 29 in Frostproof at 7:30 a.m. The unofficial reading at Lakeland Linder remained at 28 degrees.

Strawberry growers report mixed results this morning.

It didnt get as cold as they predicted, said Trace McQuaig, farm manager for the 500-acre Astin Farms in Plant City. It was a pretty boring night.

Strawberries can be impacted once the temperature hits freezing, which happened Wednesday evening. But with little wind, the strawberries got an even coverage of ice from irrigation systems.

Bob Hinton, who owns Hinton Farms in Dover, said wind may have disrupted the sprinkler system that blankets strawberries with water. The water turns to ice, which generates heat that protects the strawberries.

Were a little worried about damage, Hinton said. The breeze was up and down all night.

Hinton said growers will know more on Friday when some of the new blooms may turn dark from the freeze.

Hinton said the temperature dropped to the upper 20s in Dover.

Citrus growers said they expected the worst, but the temperature never fell below 28 degrees in the Lake Wales area, said Marty McKenna, a partner with McKenna Brothers, which has groves in Lake Wales, Sebring and Wauchula.

It was a non-event, McKenna said.

Citrus freezes when temperatures fall below 28 degrees for at least four hours.

McKenna said that it wasnt as cold as the Jan. 22 freeze that destroyed some citrus in low-lying areas.

At 6:30 a.m., McKenna said temperatures dropped to 30 degrees in Lake Wales.

A light wind helped keep temperatures up and mixed up the air a little bit, McKenna said.

We didnt have the cold air in those pockets, McKenna said.

McKenna said he spoke with growers throughout Central Florida and none reported any damage.

Local fish farmers feared the worst after the second cold spell in less than two weeks.

This seems to be colder and harder on us than the cold snap a couple of weeks ago, said David Boozer, executive director of Florida Tropical Fish Farm Association. The temperatures of the outside ponds really havent had time to recover.

Boozer said he had spoken with two fish farmers who both told him that losses could be bad.

Typically, losses arent seen for about 48 to 72 hours, Boozer said.

Most tropical fish become vulnerable when water temperature in ponds falls below 52 degrees.

Fish farmers can protect their ponds by covering them with a plastic material that creates a greenhouse effect during the day, if the weather is sunny, and insulates them from the cold at night. Some of the fish are brought inside, Boozer said.

Polk County faces one more day of cold weather freeze warnings are in place again for tonight with a warming trend expected to begin Friday afternoon and continue through next week.

The National Weather Service said the high today would be only 52, with a low of 29 expected Friday morning in Lakeland.

The warming trend begins Friday afternoon with a high of 65. Saturdays temperature range is expected to be from 40 to 73 degrees and Sunday from 49 to 76. After that it will be from the 50s to the upper 70s, at least through Wednesday, the Weather Service said.


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