Freezes bookend year of extreme weather in Florida

Icicles hang from an orange tree in a grove off Myers Road in Spring Lake on Tuesday morning. Extreme weather in 2010 affected many farmers.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Icicles hang from an orange tree in a grove off Myers Road in Spring Lake on Tuesday morning. Extreme weather in 2010 affected many farmers.

BROOKSVILLE — For blueberry growers Joan and George Casey, sub-freezing temperatures can make for a restless night of sleep. Usually when that happens, the couple will camp out in their motor home in the middle of their 10 acres of plants so they can check on them every couple of hours.

But when one freezing night turns into 11, as it did in January of this year, it can make for a weary life for berry growers, farmers and ordinary citizens trying to stay warm in the uncharacteristic frosty conditions.

"When the ground gets that cold it stunts the growth of the berries," Joan Casey said. "By the time our berries got ripe, we were competing with growers in Georgia and the Carolinas. And that killed the prices."

Indeed, Hernando County experienced record low temperatures for several days in January. Six months later, the area experienced near record heat, wreaking more havoc on the area's agricultural and other commercial interests.

Mike and Dee Blaha, owners of Rabbits Etc., an organic farm in Masaryktown, said the summer heat contributed to the death of more than 150 young turkeys they had hoped would bring a Thanksgiving windfall.

"Poultry is very susceptible to heat," said Dee Blaha. "You try to keep them as cool as possible, but it's a lot of stress on them. It was an expensive lesson for us."

Cold weather conditions also affected Hernando County fishing interests. In addition to widespread saltwater fish kills in January that affected local populations of snook, bonefish and tarpon, commercial fish species such as grouper and snapper, as well as stone crabs became scarcer until waters began to warm up.

"Fishing was totally different those first days out there," said Kathy Birren, owner of several commercial boats in Hernando Beach. "It was the coldest and longest spell I could remember, and it took a toll on people who earn their living from fishing. I hope we never see that again."

The year ended as it began, with temperatures in the 20s socking residents and agricultural interests alike. The only solace was that the blizzards of snow blanketing the northeast stayed far away from the Sunshine State.

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com.

Freezes bookend year of extreme weather in Florida 12/30/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 30, 2010 5:55pm]

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