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Tampa Bay's big chill gives way to warming trend

Farmers were relieved Monday as warm weather moved back into the Tampa Bay region, ending some anxious moments over a chilly weekend.

"From the temperatures we were seeing, it wasn't quite as bad as what we were expecting," said Joe Gude of Brandon Farms, who had 400 acres to look after overnight. "I think it'll be a minimal impact."

Temperatures climbed into the 60s Monday and are expected to rise into the 70s and 80s through the week.

That's good news for many farmers who spent the weekend protecting their crops from the cold.

The National Weather Service issued a hard-freeze warning for Pasco, Hernando, Citrus and Levy counties until 9 a.m. Monday, sending farmers to their fields for the night, spraying their strawberries with a protective layer of water.

Carl Grooms of Fancy Farms in eastern Hillsborough County said he had water running about 2 a.m. to protect his 235 acres.

Once the water was running, it was a matter of keeping the flow and looking for signs of trouble.

"You just continue that vigil," he said.

It's too early to tell if the coldest night of the season had much of an impact on the crops at JG Ranch in Hernando County, but owner George Casey says the plants were well-insulated.

"Everything looks really good," he said.

Temperatures at the farm, located off Wiscon Road southwest of Brooksville, dropped into the mid 20s for several hours overnight, Casey said. The sprinklers were turned on at 9 p.m. and ran for 12 hours.

His strawberry and blueberry plants had a healthy layer of clear ice over them — a good sign.

It's the same story at Aventura Nursery & Landscape in Spring Hill.

"To be honest, we had such a good notice," manager Amber Stulley said. "We were prepared for it."

They didn't see any damage, she said.

Gude said he doesn't expect any issues with sinkholes as in years past because farmers haven't tapped repeatedly into the aquifer.

"This is basically our first real freeze of the season," he said.

The nights are expected to be cool across Tampa Bay for the rest of the week — in the 40s and 50s — but starting today, temperatures should be in the 70s during the day, said Juli Marquez, Bay News 9 meteorologist.

Rain will be minimal at best, she said, with a 10 percent chance tonight.

Tampa Bay's big chill gives way to warming trend 02/18/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 12:24am]
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