Wednesday night may be coldest yet this winter

Brooksville blueberry farmer George Casey, 67, and his wife, Joan, 66, were planning to take turns Tuesday night waking up every two hours to check on their 10 acres of plants, which are in the blossom stage.

"Our quality time together," George Casey said wearily.

About 3 a.m., they were planning to turn on their 500 to 600 sprinklers to blanket the plants in a protective frost. The water can run for hours, and sometimes the sprinkler heads freeze up with ice, so they must be checked constantly.

"You have to take a stick and knock the ice off," he said.

Casey is just one of many Hernando County farmers and residents keeping a close eye on what was expected to be the coldest weather of the winter Tuesday night.

The National Weather Service predicted temperatures would dive to between 24 and 27 degrees during the early morning hours. And another hard freeze warning is forecast for tonight, with temperatures possibly plunging even further — to between 20 and 25 degrees.

Combined with brisk wind gusts, it will feel like it's in the mid teens, said National Weather Service meteorologist Jennifer Colson.

"With the freezing temperatures, those winds will have very cold wind chill values," she said.

The prolonged hard freeze could have a devastating effect on area crops if farmers don't take great care to protect them.

Colson warned boaters, surfers and small-aircraft pilots of the strong winds. A high surf advisory will be in effect for the next couple of days.

FAST FACTS

How to protect yourself, pipes and plants

Protecting yourself: For anyone who is outdoors for an extended period of time, the National Weather Service recommends that they wear extra layers of clothing. People using space heaters are reminded that the heaters can be fire hazards. Keep linens, blankets, curtains and other flammable materials away from them.

Protecting pipes: To prevent freezing and possible bursting, the weather service recommends that outdoor pipes be wrapped, drained or allowed to drip slowly. Homeowners with in-ground sprinkler systems should drain the systems or cover any above-ground pipes to protect them from freezing.

Protecting plants: John Korycki, coordinator of the Florida Yards & Neighborhoods program for the Hernando County Cooperative Extension Service, has these tips for plants:

• If covering plants, avoid plastics, which transfer cold easily and can burn the leaves. Make sure covers extend to the ground, and that there is as little contact as possible with the foliage.

• Avoid pruning or fertilizing plants at this time of the year.

• Avoid leaving covers on your plants for multiple days. Air flow is needed for plant health.

• Do not attempt to protect plants with water or ice. This practice is very complicated and not practical for home gardeners.

• Avoid immediate action if plants appear to have been affected by the cold. Leaf drop or yellowing does not necessarily mean that the plant has died.

Wednesday night may be coldest yet this winter 01/20/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 8:43pm]

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