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Brief respite from the cold today, but frigid weekend on the way

TAMPA — Finally, weather in the 60s. It almost feels warm.

If anyone's happy, it's farmers. After a spate of sleepless nights spent covering vegetables and running overhead sprinklers, farmers said late Thursday they looked forward to getting some rest.

"Finally, finally, finally," Plant City strawberry farmer Carl Grooms said. "But we're still worried about the two days this weekend."

That's the problem. Instead of relief at the end of a stressful week, farmers face a looming weekend of temperatures that could be the coldest yet, said Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association spokeswoman Lisa Lochridge.

But there's good news: So far, crop damage seems minimal, said Lochridge. State citrus and strawberry experts agreed.

And, for now, they're enjoying the reprieve.

"We're a little ragged, emotionally," said Florida Citrus Mutual spokesman Andrew Meadows.

Thursday morning was especially tough for local tropical fish farmers, who struggled to keep their ponds above the critical temperature of about 60 degrees.

That was almost impossible for three nights straight, said Art Rawlins of Rawlins Tropical fish farm in Lithia.

Thursday was also a challenge for Tampa International Airport, which had seven planes grounded because of frost on their wings, said airport spokeswoman Brenda Geoghagan. The airport doesn't have de-icing equipment, so it had to wait for the sun to melt the ice.

Record lows were set Thursday morning in Tampa, Lakeland and Sarasota, the National Weather Service reported. It dipped to 27 degrees in Tampa.

And another type of record was made: at about 7 a.m. Thursday, Tampa Electric customers used about 4,300 megawatts of electricity. The previous winter record of 4,243 megawatts was set Jan. 22, 2009, the utility said.

Forecasters expect today's temperatures to reach the mid 50s along the coast and lower 60s inland. A cold front moving through will bring a chance of rain. Forecasters don't expect it to freeze.

One bright spot during this chilly week: police scanners and dispatch operation centers have been relatively quiet.

It's a long-held law enforcement belief that crime slows as the temperature falls, said Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokesman Larry McKinnon.

"In my 30-year cops experience, you always tend to see less people moving around when its 25 degrees outside," McKinnon said.

That's good and bad, though. While there seem to be fewer outdoor crimes, like burglaries, indoor domestic feuds don't let up.

"People get cooped up inside the house," McKinnon said. "Families start to fight."

Times staff writer Jean Hayes contributed to this report.

Brief respite from the cold today, but frigid weekend on the way 01/07/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 8, 2010 1:45am]
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