Big chill: SW Floridians, visitors brace for coldest temps in months

Growers are bracing for freezing temperatures early Wednesday morning as the coldest weather in months sweeps through Southwest Florida.

The National Weather Service has issued a freeze watch for Collier and Lee counties and a hard freeze watch for Glades and Hendry counties for Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning.

Thermometers could dip to 32 degrees or less in some inland spots, and Glades and Hendry counties could see temperatures in the mid- to upper-20s, forecasts say.

That is cold enough to have citrus growers preparing their irrigation systems for a workout to keep the soil wet and warm to ward off crop damage, Barron Collier Cos. agricultural manager Bob Newsome said.

"All we can do is run the water," he said. "The weather is the weather."

Citrus growers say their groves generally can handle freezing temperatures as long as it doesn't stay at 28 degrees or lower for more than four hours. Vegetable crops are more sensitive to cold, Newsome said.

"If you're a vegetable farmer, it's worrisome," he said.

Temperatures will be warmer in urban areas closer to the coast, but the cool-down still will be noticeable Tuesday, NBC-2 meteorologist Robert Van Winkle said.

A cold front pushing through the area this afternoon is expected to bring colder temperatures and brisk winds that will make it feel even colder starting tonight, he said.

"(Tuesday) is going to be pretty raw and miserable," Van Winkle said.

Temperatures are expected to stay in the 50s on Tuesday, but winds out of the north will make it feel like the 40s all day, he said.

The cold snap is throwing a curve ball at visitors who would rather be worrying about their sunscreen factor instead of the wind chill factor.

"We're disappointed," said Kate Polgar, 28, of Chicago. "It's not like you come down here looking forward to cool weather."

Suzie Graven, 54, of Louisville, Ky., was taking it in stride as she sat on a windy North Naples beach Monday, wrapping herself and her grandson in a beach towel.

"It's snowing in Kentucky so we really don't care," Graven said. "We can deal with it for a couple days."

Warm-weather seekers, don't despair, Van Winkle said. A warm-up is expected through the end of the week and an 80-degree day this weekend is possible, he said.

"In typical Florida fashion, the cold weather won't last long," he said.

Fighting the freeze

■ Watering before a freeze will help soil absorb solar radiation during the day and release heat at night.

■ Potted plants should be moved indoors. Containers that must be left outside can be pushed together and mulched for protection.

■ Coverings should extend to the ground and not touch the plant to prevent heat loss and damage.

■ Use sheets or quilts or buy special frost blankets from a garden center.

■ If plastic covers are used, be sure to remove them or ventilate them during sunny days.

Source: University of Florida

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