Weather forecast: Colder tonight, warmer tomorrow

The talk at Bobbie Jo's Diner Tuesday morning on Krome Avenue in Homestead revolved around one topic: the cold.

The eatery, popular with local farmers, buzzed with conversation about how they weathered Monday night's historic freeze.

Chilling winds swept into the Sunshine State Tuesday, bringing temperatures an estimated 30 degrees colder than normal for this time of year. The National Weather Service in Miami-Dade predicted the lower temperatures will stick around for a few days.

"How'd you do?" Miami-Dade Count Agricultural Manager Charles LaPradd asked a man as he walked in.

The bean farmer shrugged.

"I'll let you know in three days," he replied.

With temperatures dipping into the low 30s -- but not freezing -- many worked through the night to save their crops. Lower than predicted winds provided a reprieve, and many breathed a sigh of reliefe.

At Casey's Corner Nursery, 31877 SW 197th Ave. in Homestead, sprinklers drenched native plants with warm water through the chilly night.

"It's all icicles," said owner Susan R. Casey. "That's not good."

Still, Casey, in business 10 years, said she's not too worried.

"There's nothing that's going to be damaged," she predicted.


Farmers packed plants into heated trucks.

Outreach workers encouraged the homeless to seek shelter.

And South Floridians -- yes, we devotees of flip flops and air-conditioning -- shopped for firewood.

``If you do have to venture outside, bundle with plenty of layers of clothing,'' meteorologist Kim Brabander said.

Tuesday morning started out in the 30s, and is expected to rise to highs in the 50s. Tuesday night will include another freeze watch for mainland Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Wednesday will bring some relief, but temperatures likely won't be back in familiar territory -- the 70s -- until Thursday afternoon, Brabander said.

So, on Monday, South Florida prepared.

Homeless shelters in Miami-Dade and Broward added extra beds to accommodate people who sought protection.

The Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust sent outreach workers fanning across the county, reaching out to anyone without a home to offer assistance, executive director David Raymond said.

``The goal is to not leave anybody on the street who wants a bed,'' Raymond said.

In South Miami-Dade, with memories of last winter's prolonged freeze still fresh in their minds, farmers did whatever they could to protect their crops.

``Brrr,'' said county Agricultural Manager Charles LaPradd. ``It's just a constant battle with Mother Nature.''

Eddie Guillen, a 20-year veteran of the nursery industry, packed sensitive plants into heated trucks. Guillen lost 38 percent of his ornamental landscaping plants and shrubs in last winter's freeze. Business is down 50 percent this year, he said.

``If it keeps going the way it is, I think next season is going to be as bad as it was last year, or worse,'' Guillen said. ``It's going to be a tough winter.''

Second-generation fish farmer Philip Marraccini counted on plastic and Styrofoam sheets to cover ponds and save his livelihood. Last winter, the cold claimed 70 percent of his angelfish, catfish and cichlids in uncovered ponds.

``We lost a lot of fish last year,'' Marraccini said. ``We're not excited about this one.''

Farmers said this year's low temperatures arrived earlier than normal -- and meteorologists agree.

``Normally, if we do get a really strong front with temperatures in the 30s, it's about Christmastime through January,'' NWS's Brabander said. ``This is about two weeks too early.''

Consider this: Brabander said the average low for this time of year in Miami is 62. Early Tuesday, the low temperatures were expected to be in the 30s.Even the predicted high for Tuesday, in the 50s, is about 10 degrees less than the average low.

The cold weather brings farmers more than worries; it also costs them money.

Farmers burn extra fuel to keep generators pumping warm water over plants and produce, and they have to pay employees to work through the night to make sure the plants are safe.

Guillen said more cold temperatures may cause prices of crops like tomatoes and oranges to ``go through the roof.''

The dropping mercury has already caused a run on firewood.

A clerk at a Hialeah Home Depot laughed Monday when asked about available firewood.

``Firewood?'' said the woman, who declined to give her name. ``We haven't had any left for a couple days. That stuff is valuable like gold right now.''But Kevin MacPherson, a Monarch High School junior who also is a local firewood vendor, said Monday he still had wood for sale. He has run South Florida Firewood from his family's Pompano Beach home for three years, and he stays prepared.

``Our supply comes from several different sources,'' said MacPherson, 17. ``Which is why we don't run out.''

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