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Hernando County shivers through a record chill

If you think the bone-chilling temperatures of the past few mornings have been unlike anything you've felt in years, you're correct. In fact, record lows were set the past two mornings in Hernando County, according to the National Weather Service.

The lows of 23 Wednesday morning and 19 Thursday morning at the Hernando County Airport, south of Brooksville, were both records for those dates, though highs and lows have been tracked at the airport for only a few years, according to weather service forecaster Rick Davis in Ruskin.

At the weather service reporting site at Chinsegut Hill, north of Brooksville, where temperatures have been recorded since 1892, a record low of 29 degrees was recorded Wednesday morning, breaking the old mark of 30 for Jan. 6, set in 1919.

Thursday morning's low at Chinsegut was only 33. Davis said that wind might have kept the temperature up.

More records could be on the horizon. Despite the warm-up during the day on Thursday and today, the cold snap is not over. Forecasts call for temperatures to drop back into the low 20s or high teens on Sunday and Monday mornings.

No doubt, Hernando residents woke up Thursday to the coldest morning of the winter.

The official low of 19 was recorded just before sunrise. But temperatures had first fallen below freezing about 7 p.m. Wednesday and remained in the 20s overnight. Not until about midmorning Thursday did the thermometer rise above the freezing mark.

Clear skies, light wind and the frigid temperatures combined to leave a heavy layer of frost on rooftops, yards and fields. In open areas, the heavy frost resembled a dusting of snow. Ice formed in spots.

Some uncovered, nonnative landscape plants that had survived the cold temperatures earlier in the week were not so fortunate Wednesday night. Farmers were out early Thursday assessing damage in their fields.

"Things don't look good out there right now; everything is very stiff and cold," Joann Beasley of Beasley Farm, east of Brooksville, said early Thursday morning.

An inspection later in the day, she said, revealed that collards and broccoli came through the freeze fine. But the Beasleys' mustard greens didn't look so good. Beasley said it would take a few days to determine the extent of any damage to several crops, including the young spinach and Swiss chard.

Likewise, George Casey, who grows strawberries and blueberries south of Brooksville, said he likely won't know until the middle or end of next week how much damage his strawberries sustained during this week's freezes.

He said the temperature dropped into the high teens on his property early Thursday morning.

Kathy Oleson of Boyett's Grove in Spring Lake said Thursday afternoon that citrus and other plants on her family's property were "looking pretty good."

After a freeze last year, Oleson said, banana and guava trees were lying on the ground, full of water. They were still standing Thursday.

Stacy Strickland, who heads the Hernando County Cooperative Extension Service and specializes in small farms, said he wasn't hearing of much agricultural damage Thursday afternoon, but that it might be too soon to tell.

"We got very cold last night," Strickland said. "But the thing about Hernando County is temperatures vary so much from areas only a few miles apart. We'll know in a few days if we sustained any real damages."

John Korycki, coordinator of the extension service's Florida Yards and Neighbors program in Hernando County, said he had fielded fewer calls this year, compared with last year, about damaged yard plants. He suspects that residents who lost landscape plants to last year's freeze replaced them with more cold-resistant species.

His advice: If you are going to cover a plant, make sure the cover extends all the way to the ground in order to trap the heat given off by the ground.

Ideally, the covering — fabrics work best — should not touch the plant. Also, coverings should be removed during the day.

If plants are damaged, Korycki said, the best thing to do is wait. Do not prune, water or fertilize immediately, he said. You don't want to stimulate growth that might be damaged during the next freeze.

One of Hernando's favorite pastimes — golf — has also been affected by this week's freezes.

Mike McNeil, the course superintendent at Hernando Oaks Golf and Country Club, south of Brooksville, said normal wintertime frosts delay golfers' tee times until about 9 a.m. On Thursday morning, it was later.

"We back up tee times until we can run the sprinklers and knock the dew off," McNeil said. "But we can't run the sprinklers until it's above freezing."

That didn't happen until midmorning Thursday.

Not waiting long enough has consequences for a golf course, especially if golfers step onto the greens too soon.

"The grass would crack, injuring the nutrients and the plant tissue itself," McNeil said. "It would leave black marks."

Hernando County shivers through a record chill 01/07/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 7, 2010 7:51pm]
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