The plants all thought it was spring.
"I've got a mulberry tree that's bright green," said Brooksville berry farmer Joan Casey. "I've got an orchid that's got blossoms all over it. Even the azaleas are wide open."
Spring? Guess again. The season's coldest temperatures slapped the region Sunday and were expected back today for a one-two punch, a mean awakening for tender new shoots coaxed by a mild winter.
Morning lows in Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties will plunge into the low 20s, with freezing temperatures in parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, said Bay News 9 meteorologist Josh Linker.
Tampa and St. Petersburg should see the mid 30s again, like Sunday, but lows of 29 or 30 are possible in Brandon, Lutz, Citrus Park, Pinellas Park and east of Lake Tarpon.
Less predictable? Frost.
The air is dry, which could make frost formation difficult, Linker said. But the bay area has enough natural sources of water that the dew point sometimes rises overnight, said fellow Bay News 9 meteorologist Brian McClure.
"I think we're going to have a frosty morning," he said.
Sunday was an icy morning in Brooksville for Casey, 69, who grows blueberries and strawberries with her husband, George, 70.
Late Saturday, they heard a freeze warning and knew they would need to protect plants by spraying them with water to form a protective shield.
The temperature dropped slowly. They didn't turn on the pumps until 4:30 a.m., but just 90 minutes later, ice had formed.
"We got down to 29 here in the house. It got colder in the blueberries," she said.
She figures they didn't get any cloud cover. Clouds can warm things up.
"The cloud cover can move in and make all the difference in the world," she said.
Meteorologist McClure was assessing cloud cover, too, on Sunday, knowing it would affect his forecast.
Worst-case scenario: no wind, no clouds.
Computer models predicted high clouds in the area overnight, he said, but he added, "I don't think they're going to be thick enough to keep us from going below freezing."
After today's cold blast, the afternoon should bring temperatures in the 60s.
And Tuesday, just when plants start to realize it's winter, we'll be back into the 70s.
Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or [email protected]