It's cold: With lows in the 30s, Florida farmers on a freeze watch

01/16/2014 8:42 AM

01/17/2014 12:25 PM

Farmers monitored their crops early Friday morning as temperatures dipped into the 30s and 40s across South Florida and bringing the possibility of frost to the fields.

Emergency homeless shelters opened with extra beds and meals in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, as teams reached out to homeless people ill-prepared for the cold snap.

Thursday night " was "the big night. It’s expected to be the coldest night. We’ll take everyone who comes,’’ said Jim Whitworth director of operations for the Miami Rescue Mission. “You see people in T-shirts and flipflops, you’re talking hypothermia.’’

In Broward, homeless shelters in Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood and Pompano Beach geared up to receive more people, after the county declared a cold weather emergency, reflecting temperatures of 45 degrees or less.

“Everyone is spreading the word,’’ about the need to take shelter, said Michael Wright, administrator of the Homeless Initiative Partnership section of Broward County government, who expects the centers to stay open until the chill passes.

Growers throughout the agricultural swath of South Miami-Dade were closely monitoring the chilly weather. That means sheltering plants and deciding if and when to turn on water sprinklers to keep crops warm.

Temperatures dropped to the lower to mid-40s in metro Miami Thursday night and Friday morning, and to the mid-30s in the Redland area, which houses many commercial farms for winter crops and ornamental plants, according to the National Weather Service in Miami-Dade.

Miami-Dade, for all its condos and concrete, is still the No. 1 county in Florida in production of ornamental plants. Many varieties of the foliage turn brown or drop leaves even if cold doesn’t hit freezing levels, leaving them unappealing to buyers.

“It’s a critical situation, especially with this economy. The growers are just starting to see their business coming back after the recession,’’ said E. Vanessa Campoverde, commercial horticulture extension agent with the UF/IFAS Miami-Dade County Extension. “They’re getting ready not only for this season but for seasons ahead with seedlings and younger plants.’’

Winter vegetables are also at risk. Bruce Dunn, owner of Dunn Brothers Farms in South Miami-Dade, is a third-generation farmer who has been in the business for 45 years. He spent much of Thursday preparing to spray a vast plot of land with a Valley water sprinkler to protect against cold weather expected to reach its low point Thursday night and Friday morning.

“The drier it is, the faster the frost forms,’’ said Dunn, whose farm grows packs and ships green beans and corn. Dunn can pinpoint which sections of his land will cool faster than others, based on factors such as the type of soil and the location nearest to the bay. “I’ve been doing this for 45 years,’’ Dunn said.

The situation was more perilous in Glades and Hendry counties to the north, where the weather service warned of freezing temperatures as low as 30 degrees Thursday night.

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