- Domingo 23 de janeiro de 2022
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California citrus growers brace for disaster as freeze lingers

MARCUS WOHLSEN Associated Press SAN FRANCISCO - California citrus growers braced for potential disaster Saturday as temperatures across the state dropped to record lows that forecasters predicted could linger until the middle of next week. Temperatures in the San Joaquin Valley, where much of the state`s nearly $1 billion citrus crop is grown, dropped into the teens overnight as growers burned fires, sprayed warm irrigation water and ran giant fans to keep cold air away from their oranges, lemons and tangerines. "I`m hanging in there trying to survive," said grower Ron Turner, 52, of Exeter, who estimated he had lost about 20 percent of his 400-acre crop to the cold so far. "Overall, I don`t think it was a catastrophe last night," the Tulare County farmer said Saturday. "But how this thing plays out in the next few days is going to be the key." Forecasters predicted the cold spell that began Friday would last through Monday morning for most of the state, but rural areas could see freezing temperatures until Wednesday. A three-day freeze in December 1998 destroyed 85 percent of California`s citrus crop, a loss valued at $700 million. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an emergency proclamation Friday citing "conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property ... as a result of extreme low temperatures and freezing conditions." The state Disaster Assistance Act, which provides extra financial support for local governments, was activated, and California National Guard armories were ordered to open to the public as warming facilities, along with local fairgrounds, if needed. Homeless shelters statewide have been filled to capacity as they worked to provide extra beds for those seeking shelter from the cold. The state`s coldest temperatures were recorded in Bridgeport on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, about 70 miles southeast of Lake Tahoe, where the mercury dropped to 19 degrees below zero, according to the National Weather Service. Monterey experienced lows of 27 degrees, one degree colder than the previous record of 28 degrees in 1963. Sacramento tied its record low of 22 degrees, last measured in 1949. Even sunny Southern California got a rare dose of freezing weather. Early Saturday, thermometers registered just 8 degrees at Lancaster, 22 at Palmdale and 30 in Santa Barbara, according to the weather service. Much of Los Angeles County stayed in the low 40s. In the current cold snap, the warmer air moving in off the Pacific Ocean that typically keeps California`s winter temperatures above freezing has been replaced by colder air from Canada, NWS meteorologist Steve Anderson said. "When it comes down from the north, it`s cold Arctic air that`s much drier and much colder," Anderson said. "That`s what we have in place right now." The freeze`s full impact on California`s citrus crop won`t be known until the cold lifts and the fruit can be inspected, state agricultural officials said. But many growers feared the damage would be extensive, including a "big hit" to the lemon crop, said Nancy Lungren, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture. A severe cold snap can destroy crops, leave hundreds of farmworkers unemployed and have long-term effects if trees are damaged. The industry took two years to recover from a 1990 freeze that lasted a week, said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, a 2,000-member trade organization. Officials estimated the value of the citrus crop still on the trees at $960 million. Because the freeze came later in the season this year, the orange crop has had more time to grow, raising its sugar content, which can ward off damage from the cold, Turner said. Workers were out again Saturday in Turner`s groves in Tulare County after a hasty week of picking to bring in as much fruit as possible before freezing temperatures arrived. Turner said he faced up to $800,000 in losses depending on the cold`s impact on his crop. He could lose another $1 million if the citrus trees he cultivates in his nursery for other growers are damaged, he said. "Sometimes it makes me think about getting another line of work where I don`t have to deal with Mother Nature," Turner said. --- Associated Press Writer Steve Lawrence contributed to this report from Sacramento.


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