Thursday morning to be coldest yet this winter

What might be the chilliest weather of the season is headed this way, bringing freeze warnings, cold-shelter openings and concerns for farmers.

A freeze warning has been issued for this morning in Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties. Overnight lows in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area will be in the 40s.

Then the real cold moves in.

"It looks like Thursday morning is going to be our coldest," said meteorologist Nick Petro of the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

That means overnight lows dipping into the 20s in parts of Hillsborough, and the low 20s in counties immediately north. In Pinellas, the lows are expected to dip into the 30s.

Highs in the Tampa Bay area today and Thursday will be in the 50s.

Several cold weather shelters in the Pinellas and Hillsborough plan to open this evening.

The cold also will put farmers on alert. National Weather Service forecasters say our coldest weather will be east of Interstate 75, where much of the bay area's farming takes place.

Joe Keel, owner of Keel and Curley blueberry farm and winery, said his crops have come through past freezes with minor losses. He's confident that his blueberries will make it through this week's round of low temperatures.

"A week and a half ago, we had temperatures in the 20s for 12 to 14 hours," Keel said. "We had to ice for that long and we made it through that, so I think we'll be all right."

November's cold toughened up this year's strawberry crop, said Ted Campbell, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association. But farmers are still concerned about what the rest of winter holds.

When overnight lows fell into the 20s a few weeks ago, strawberry farmers were able to water the plants and create a layer of ice to protect the fruit.

The plants did well, Campbell said, because the winds didn't interrupt the water distribution. He said he's hoping for little to no wind again.

"We were lucky two weeks ago," Campbell said. "And we're hoping to be lucky again, but it's the kind of thing you don't know until it's over."

Times staff writer Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report.

Thursday morning to be coldest yet this winter 02/03/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 6, 2009 7:46am]

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