Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Farmers survey crops after Monday night's freeze

As the sun rose over ice-covered strawberries Tuesday, farmer Shad Simmons wondered whether the worst was over.

Below-freezing temperatures Monday night forced Simmons and other east Hillsborough growers to turn on sprinklers to cover berries with a protective layer of ice. And though temperatures didn't get quite as cold as expected, bottoming out in the mid 20s and 30s, some damage was already evident.

Simmons, 29, whose father runs E.W. Simmons Farms in Dover, pointed out faint black spots in his family's 117 green acres. It'll probably be another week until the extent of the freeze is clear.

"It's not something you look forward to," Simmons said, kicking at hard, frozen dirt beneath his feet.

On Monday, Forecasters had predicted that temperatures could be in the teens in Brooksville and the low 30s in Pinellas. Brooksville was 26 and Clearwater was 37. Meteorologist Juli Marquez said northwesterly winds in some parts of Tampa Bay blew in slightly warmer air from the Gulf of Mexico.

Still, Tuesday's temperatures were about 15 to 20 degrees below average.

Simmons said he and his dad stayed up all night, periodically checking an outdoor thermometer that had frozen to the wooden deck. At one point, the farm reached 26 degrees.

The sprinklers would probably have to remain on until about 10 a.m. or later, depending on when the reading got up to 34, Simmons said.

Meanwhile, regulators with the Southwest Florida Water Management District prepared to discuss rule changes for the agricultural areas of Dover in Plant City in an aim to reduce water-use during freezes by 20 percent in a decade. The district's monthly board meeting was scheduled for 9 a.m. in Brooksville.

Simmons said there was no point in attending.

"There's not much we can do about it," he said.

The proposed changes are the result of catastrophic effects of last winter's agricultural water use, when 11 straight nights of freezing temperatures in January forced farmers to pump about a dozen billion gallons of water from the ground — which in turn opened dozens of sinkholes and dried out hundreds of nearby residential wells.

In addition to limiting water use, the water-use board will likely push farmers to use alternative frost-protection measures, including insulating ground cover or rainwater retention ponds.

Like many other growers, Simmons said the alternatives aren't cost-effective.

Ground cover typically costs more than $1,000 an acre, he said, plus the labor cost of laying it out each freezing night. And to build a water-recovery pond would mean sacrificing a large chunk of acreage that could be used for crops.

Nevertheless, farmers say they'll do what they have to.

"We don't really have a choice," Simmons said.

Simmons said he and his father have only needed to run the sprinklers three times this winter — twice last week plus Monday night.

After last week's overnight freezes, six dry wells were reported.

Simmons said as long as the freezing nights are spread out, there shouldn't be too much of a problem. He may have to run the sprinklers Tuesday night, too, but because the wind should be milder, the strawberries have a better chance of being protected.

Maybe then it'll warm up, he hopes.

"I haven't ever seen it this cold this early," Simmons said.

Tuesday's temperatures are expected to peak in the upper 40s and lower 50s, forecasters said.

Hard-freeze warnings were issued for Tuesday night and Wednesday morning for most of west central Florida, including Pinellas County.

Wednesday morning is expected to be a few degrees colder, forecasters said. Temperatures could drop into the low 30s in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties while Pasco and Hernando could see temperatures in the teens and low 20s.

Warmer weather should finally make its way to Tampa Bay Thursday morning. Lows are forecast in the high 30s and low 40s, warming up to the mid- to upper-60s later in the day.

Follow This Just In on Twitter.

Farmers survey crops after Monday night's freeze 12/14/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 11:10am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Senate to take up AUMF debate as Trump defends reaction to Niger attack


    WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is taking up a long-awaited debate about authorizing military force against the Islamic State as President Trump comes under unprecedented public scrutiny for his treatment of dead soldiers' families, following an ambush on troops helping to fight Islamic …

  2. In fear and vigilance, a Tampa neighborhood holds its breath


    TAMPA — There was a time, not long ago, when Wayne Capaz would go for a stroll at night and Christina Rodriguez would shop whenever she wanted. Michael Fuller would go to his night job as a line cook, not too worried about his wife at home.

    More than 50 people gathered and walked in the Southeast Seminole Heights community Friday to pay respects to the victims of three shootings. The crowd took a moment of silence at the corner of 11th Street and East New Orleans where Monica Hoffa was found dead. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL  |  Times]
  3. Fennelly: What's not to like about Lightning's start?

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — No one is engraving the Stanley Cup. No one has begun stuffing the league MVP ballot box for Nikita Kucherov.

    The Lightning, with a win tonight, would match the best start in franchise history, 7-1-1 in the 2003-04 Cup season.
  4. Study: Pollution kills 9 million a year, costs $4.6 trillion


    NEW DELHI — Environmental pollution — from filthy air to contaminated water — is killing more people every year than all war and violence in the world. More than smoking, hunger or natural disasters. More than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

    New Delhi’s landmark India Gate, a war memorial, is engulfed in morning smog on Friday.
  5. Quarterback Jameis Winston will start Sunday for the Bucs


    TAMPA — Jameis Winston hadn't thrown in practice since he injured his right shoulder in Sunday's loss at Arizona, and with that uncertainty, a wide line of TV cameras and reporters' cellphones were all out Friday morning, recording the moment as Winston tested his shoulder with his first throws early in …

    Despite a sore shoulder, Jameis Winston will be making his 38th consecutive start since being drafted first overall in 2015.