It's Going To Get Really, Really Cold Tonight In Florida
TAMPA - A brutal, stunning freeze is forecast to envelop nearly all of Florida tonight, with temperatures dropping into the 20s except in Pinellas County and along narrow ribbons on the southeast coast and the Keys. Those areas aren't expected to entirely escape the avalanche of arctic air that will roll over the state today. The National Weather Service has issued freeze warnings for Pinellas, Sarasota and Miami-Dade counties. Only the Keys are expected to sidestep the freezing temperatures. Elsewhere, warnings of a hard freeze cover the state, meaning the weather service expects temperatures to fall below 28 degrees for at least four hours. The hard freeze is expected to sweep south through the Everglades. The National Weather Service says temperatures could fall to the low 20s in the eastern part of Hillsborough County and the mid-20s in Tampa.Polk County is expected to see a similar spread of temperatures, and eastern Pasco and Hernando counties will likely drop as low as 17 degrees. Forecasters say the freeze may not end tonight. Forecasts call for temperatures to drop into the mid-20s in Hillsborough on Thursday night, too. Temperatures could set records around West Central Florida, including in Plant City and Lakeland where it could be the coldest February day ever recorded. The record for Feb. 5 in Plant City is 25 and Lakeland is 24, both in 1996. The forecast for Plant City is 21 and Lakeland is 23. The forecast low of 17 in Brooksville also could break the record of 21 in 1996. As if temperatures below freezing aren't enough, a steady wind will bring wind chill values into the teens as far south as Lake Okeechobee on Thursday morning, said Ben Nelson, state meteorologist. The last time wind chill values in the teens stretched so far south was 2001, Nelson said. The newest freeze will hit before agriculture officials have fully tallied the damage from last month. Farmers are still recovering from the freeze that ravaged crops in South Florida on Jan. 22 and 23. Temperatures fell to the 20s in the vegetable-growing areas south of Lake Okeechobee, hammering green bean and squash crops. Some potato farmers in Central Florida lost as much as half of their crops. This freeze could be much worse than the January cold blast with temperatures dropping lower and for longer periods. The prospect of a second freeze in farming areas so soon worries agriculture officials. "We're very concerned," said Liz Compton, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The freeze threatens a cornucopia of crops, from potatoes and cabbage in northeast Florida to avocado, celery, okra, corn, green beans, squash and radishes in South Florida. The freeze is potentially so severe it could threaten Bahia grass pastures in North and Central Florida. Compton's department has not finished determining the extent of crop damage from January, though early reports said at least 80 percent of the green bean crop around Belle Glade was lost. Now, officials will just wait for the weather's latest body punch before deciding whether crop damage warrants a request for a federal disaster declaration. The Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association also has not gathered any solid numbers from January, said spokeswoman Lisa Lochridge. But there's no doubt a second freeze has farmers worried. "I think there's a pretty high level of concern that this is going to be a one-two punch. We sure are getting our share of cold weather," she said. Strawberry farmers in eastern Hillsborough generally escaped serious damage from the January freeze but may not be that lucky tonight. Temperatures there are forecast to drop below freezing at midnight and not rebound until 9 a.m. Thursday.