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Nippy in the bud // Chill brings shopping thrill

Local business owners say this week's cold snap could not have come at a better time _ and they'll hate to see it go.

"Retailers love cold weather for Christmas," said Debra Faulk, marketing coordinator for Westshore Plaza. "It definitely brings out the Christmas shopping spirit."

While the chillier weather has some folks smiling, the National Weather Service has some good news for people who prefer things warmer.

The warming trend that slowly began Monday will continue today and for the rest of the week, said Ron Morales, a weather service meteorologist.

The arctic wave that sent temperatures into the 30s in the Tampa Bay area passed into the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea on Monday, he said.

"Luckily it was relatively short-lived," Morales said.

Low temperatures this morning are expected to be in the high 30s to low 40s, Morales said. Compare that to Monday morning's low temperature of 34 degrees at Tampa International Airport, he said.

Temperatures during the day today are expected to climb into the low 70s with lows overnight in the mid-50s, he said. Monday's high at Tampa International was 67.

By Wednesday, the low is expected to stay in the mid-50s, with highs for the rest of the week in the mid- to high 70s, he said.

The cold _ which pushed hundreds of people into various homeless shelters in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties _ will be missed by retailers who saw higher-than-normal holiday shopping crowds Monday.

"Cold weather is actually good news because it makes people feel more Christmasy," said Laura Haddaway, a Tampa Bay Center mall official.

"When it gets cold, people are not only looking for Christmas items, they realize they need jackets and sweaters, too," Haddaway said. "People even have larger appetites. I've seen a big increase in traffic at the food court."

At Christmas by Frank's, where holiday ornaments are sold in Clearwater Mall, increased sales can be attributed to the cold, said manager JoAnn Williams.

"I would venture to say that the cooler weather brings them out," Ms. Williams said.

But don't put away the coats yet. Morales expected it to be chilly outside this morning, with parts of Pasco and east Hillsborough covered with a blanket of frost. It was not expected to damage crops.

"As long as it doesn't get below the 30s, it will actually do the oranges some good," said Dooley Houghtaling, owner of Dooley Groves. "A little cold weather will brighten the color of the oranges and make them look beautiful. Some people say it makes them sweeter."

A freeze warning was predicted Monday night in North Florida and north Central Florida.

TECO spokesman Mike Mahoney in Tampa said the utility is not anticipating any problems with power demand. He said TECO did not approach its full capacity Sunday night.

In Pinellas, power wasn't threatened by Monday morning's low, said Florida Power spokeswoman Karen Raihill.

"We were not close to record peak winter demand," Raihill said. "We continue to be in good shape. We have plenty of power."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.