Just two or three degrees separate survival from disaster for Miami-Dade’s fruit and vegetable farmers and commercial nurseries, experts say, as temperatures are projected to fall to near freezing on Friday morning.
In the last few days, Florida has already witnessed rare snowfalls, canceled flights and frozen iguanas. If that weren’t enough, farmers in South Miami-Dade are combating what they say could be a deadly turn for South Florida’s multimillion-dollar agricultural industry.
“Let’s see how things go. Hopefully, they can pull it off,” said Charles LaPradd, Miami-Dade County’s agricultural manager. “This will be marginal; a few degrees either way can make or break the crops.”
Green beans, squash, lettuce, tomatoes and sweet corn are just some of the sensitive foods in the ground now. If they’re not watered enough overnight, a major loss can be expected. Nursery plants as well as tropical fruit can also be in trouble if it gets too cold.
“If not brought in or covered, they can die,” LaPradd added.
According to the National Weather Service, areas near the Everglades are forecast to get as chilly as 34 degrees by Friday morning. Regions near most of the farmland are expected to see 35- or 36-degree weather.
“The temperatures will gradually decrease,” said meteorologist Andrew Hagen. “ Around 1 a.m. or 2 a.m, you’ll see we’ll get into the 40s; come sunrise, we’ll be in the 30s.”
As far as Miami’s metro areas, anything west of Florida’s Turnpike will see temperatures between 36 and 41 degrees on Friday morning. Areas east of the Turnpike will experience the low 40s. Coastal areas should be in the mid 40s. South Florida won’t start warming up until Saturday afternoon.
Sam Accursio, owner of Accursio Farms in Homestead, said he’ll have a full house manning the crops Thursday night into Friday morning.
In order to protect the squash, beans and corn, Accursio says he’ll be irrigating his 2,000 acres non-stop overnight with water precisely at 72 degrees. The warm water helps insulate the plants from the cold.
“That will create a field of warmth,” Accursio said. “We’ll start around midnight, water all night long until the morning, probably around 8. If the weather stays in the upper 30s, I think we’ll be fine. If it goes down to 32, we’ll see serious crop damage.”
As the cold spell blanketed South Florida, it wasn’t just the plants feeling the impact.
At Zoo Miami, elephant “barns” were shrouded in 12-foot-tall curtains to block the wind and trap heat for the mammals from India and Southeast Asia, according to Ron Magill, the zoo’s longtime spokesman. Zoo keepers herded Giant Aldabra tortoises into shelters with heating all around — lamps above, heaters on the walls and even heated floors. Monkeys and other primates received blankets and hay for bedding to ward off the cold.
Miami Herald Staff Writer Doug Hanks contributed to this report.