Cold snap: Florida's crops in danger

Posted by Rachel Leigh - email

BELLE GLADE, FL (WFLX) - Florida is under an executive order, signed by the governor, to provide help to Florida's farmers. One cold night is challenging to crops; however, prolonged cold could spell disaster especially for sensitive crops.

Update, WED 10 AM: It's the first executive order of 2010. It relaxes the normal restrictions on transporting crops. The order also gives state agencies the authority to provide grower's with assistance. That's important to farmers in our area who are trying to salvage millions of dollars worth of citrus and vegetable crops.

Throughout Central and South Florida, farmers are trying to salvage millions of dollars worth of citrus and vegetable crops spraying them in protective layers of ice and covering them in plastic.

Forecasters say the cold spell will last through the weekend -- likely breaking records for continuous cold temperatures in many parts of the state.

The freeze may have you paying more for your morning glass of OJ. Orange juice prices jumped nearly 8-percent; that's the highest level in two years. This, as our freezing temperatures feed concerns that orange crops could be damaged.

The number of people in Palm Beach County using cold weather shelters hit triple digits Tuesday night.

The Red Cross says more than 115 people took shelter overnight in Palm Beach County. There is the Westgate Community Center in West Palm Beach and the West County Senior Center in Belle Glade.

The numbers aren't in yet as far as how many people stayed at Treasure Coast Shelters. In Martin County, the Red Cross operating a shelter at its main office on South Kanner Highway in Stuart. In St. Lucie County, a shelter's open at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church; that's on South Indian River Drive in Ft. Pierce.

Update, TUE 9 AM: The coldest weather of the season's bearing down on South Florida, and more cold air is coming Friday. It's due to a big area of low pressure that's kind of stationary off the East Coast. This weather system hasn't moved in about four days, and it's drawing and pumping all the cold air into the state.

The National Weather Service has issued a freeze warning for Palm Beach County, and a freeze watch for parts of the Treasure Coast that begins Tuesday at 11 p.m. and runs until 10 a.m. Wednesday. Temperatures could dip into the 20s.

People are advised to cover plants and bring pets inside.

Meanwhile, 64 people spent Monday night in cold weather shelters in Palm Beach County. The Red Cross will decide later Tuesday to re-open them again for Tuesday night.

Here's a list of shelters:

Palm Beach County: Westgate Community Center off Oswego Road, and the West County Senior Center in Belle Glade.

In Martin County, the Red Cross is operating a shelter at its main office on South Kanner Highway in Stuart.

In St. Lucie County, a shelter open at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church on South Indian River Drive in Ft. Pierce.

Previously: It's still going to be here a couple more days, so we're not going to get out of this icebox until probably next week.

The dropping temperatures pose a big problem for South Florida crops. The experts say you've got to take action before it gets too cold -- all leafy crops like tomatoes, strawberries and oranges need to be covered up in any home gardens.

The same thing is going on in a much larger scale out west at the major orange groves where helicopters are flying over to keep the crops from freezing.

Your best bet for your home garden is to put a sheet over it protecting fruits and vegetables from the cold night. Plant specialist Marie Hernandez says cold snaps, like this, could be killer. "The weather is getting bad. I know the wind chill is a major factor on most of the plants especially down here in South Florida. People love the tropical plants, but they have to make sure it's warm."

Experts add that it is important to get any blankets and coverings off your plants when the sun comes up in the morning.

Meanwhile, nearly 50 people spent the night in emergency shelters as the temperatures plunged overnight. Wind chills made it feel like 20 degrees in some areas forcing the Red Cross to open up homeless shelters for the second night in a row.

The Red Cross says last year they gave more than 800 people a place to say during the coldest nights. They say if the temperatures stay low, they'll open up again Monday night.

Also, don't forget about your pets either. Vets will tell you dogs and cats are always better off indoors -- especially younger and older pets.