Coldest night of the season expected on Sunday

Katie Birch, 5 of Clearwater sips hot chocolate with her mom, Tracey, at the Florida State Fair in Tampa on Friday. Fairgoers will need lots of hot chocolate Sunday night before the fair’s final day on Monday.

EVE EDELHEIT | Times

Katie Birch, 5 of Clearwater sips hot chocolate with her mom, Tracey, at the Florida State Fair in Tampa on Friday. Fairgoers will need lots of hot chocolate Sunday night before the fair’s final day on Monday.

The coldest weather of the season will roll into the Tampa Bay region this weekend, prompting concerns about people, pets and agriculture.

Low temperatures in the Tampa Bay area overnight today and Sunday will be in the mid to high 30s, said Bay News 9 meteorologist Juli Marquez. In Hernando and Citrus counties, temperatures will plummet into the 20s.

A freeze watch will be in effect for several areas, including Hernando, Pasco and Citrus counties, the National Weather Service said. A watch means the potential for a freeze exists.

In Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, officials announced they would open cold shelters for the homeless tonight and Sunday night.

Local strawberry farmers are preparing for a freeze on those nights.

"Monday morning looks pretty certain that we're going to see frost," said Ted Campbell, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association in Dover. "It means the farmers will be up all night."

Farmers will spray their crops with water, creating a coating of ice that will act as a protective blanket, he said.

In Hillsborough County alone, the strawberry crop brings in about $400 million in sales a year, Campbell said.

Even with the Florida Strawberry Festival around the corner, Feb. 28 through March 10, he said a frost this weekend won't ruin the festival or the industry.

"I'd say it's not a serious threat at this point," he said. "It's a one-night event."

High temperatures today will be in the mid 60s in most of the Tampa Bay area before a dose of colder air moves in tonight.

Sunday is expected to be dry and sunny, with highs not getting out of the 50s.

Sunday night and Monday morning will be quite chilly, with temperatures in the 30s across the region and the 20s in Citrus and Hernando counties.

Residents are being urged to prepare for freezing temperatures by bringing in plants and pets, bundling up children and making sure elderly neighbors have a working heater.

Coldest night of the season expected on Sunday 02/15/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 15, 2013 10:34pm]

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