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Northern air brings shiver to bay area

Elaine Gustafson thought for sure Sunday that the third time would be the charm.

She had finally made it onto a departing airplane at Tampa International Airport.

Then it happened. Her flight home to Connecticut got canceled.

"It's a blizzard up there," said Gustafson.

She was not alone. Travelers around the state were stuck Sunday as snow shut down much of the Northeast.

Officials said Sunday night that 60 flights going north were canceled at TIA. At Miami International Airport, the toll was more than 80 flights. That figure was 46 at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and 38 at Orlando International Airport.

Around Florida, residents braced for the coldest weather of the year and growers began anxious vigils over their crops.

"If you stepped outside today, you'd be like, "Man, are we living in the Midwest?' " Rick Davis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin, said Sunday.

The weather will slowly start to warm up on Tuesday, Davis said.

He blamed the cold weather moving through the bay area over the weekend on the first big snowstorm this year in the Northeast, which dumped more than 20 inches of snow in cities throughout New England.

But tonight's chill comes as a result of the unseasonably warm weather in January. Davis said the above normal temperatures last month blocked the cold air and kept it sitting in Canada, where it kept getting colder. Now, it's moving south with a vengeance.

In Citrus County, forecasters warned of snow flurries.

Also, vegetable growers, such as Jim Collette, farm manager of Ferris Groves in Floral City, planned to monitor the 83 acres of strawberries and be ready to turn on sprinklers to protect the crop.

In Hernando County, Kathy Oleson, owner of Boyette Grove in Spring Lake, said that most of the citrus harvest was complete, but the chill could ruin tender blossom buds on her tangerine and orange trees.

"When it gets really cold this late in the season, it can cause lots of problems. It's something we're watching carefully," she said.

Power companies also were alert Sunday for peaking demand.

Ross Bannister, spokesman for Tampa Electric, said the company has "weather junkies" who watch the temperatures and help plan to handle the expected extra demand for power.

"We'll certainly make sure that we've got everything in order to make sure people stay cozy these next couple of nights," Bannister said. "Over the course of a year, we can pretty well predict how people are going to be using electricity at any time of the year."

Progress Energy spokeswoman Deborah Shipley said the utility will be monitoring the dropping temperatures today and make any adjustments if needed.

Adjustments also were the order of the day at TIA.

Gustafson and her husband, Paul, figured they had a 50-50 chance of getting out of town before Tuesday.

Had the temperature in Tampa been warmer, Elaine Gustafson said, an extra two days down here might not have been such a bad idea.

But "52 degrees is not my idea of Florida," she said.

Times staff writers Logan Neill, Rick Gershman and Jorge Sanchez contributed to this report, as well as the Associated Press.