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Arctic air slams Midwest; sub-freezing temps endangering southern crops

Agriculture.com Staff 01/04/2009 @ 2:40pm

It's cold out there.

Sub-zero temperatures are common throughout the nation's midsection, and will continue to linger there through the end of this week, forecasters say. But, the real danger is further south, where crops are still in the ground.

"Brutally cold air" is battering the Corn Belt, with low temperatures reaching the -30s Fahrenheit. But, from south Texas to Florida, temperatures are in the 20s and 30s. That may feel like a heat wave to those in the northern Plains and Corn Belt, but the sub-freezing temperatures in the southern climes are endangering the southern states' citrus and other crops.

"There will be several mornings over the next week when citrus groves in Florida will be threatened by sub-freezing temperatures," says Charlie Notis of Freese-Notis Weather, Inc., in Des Moines, Iowa. "Saturday highs will be in the teens throughout the Delta, and likely will not get above freezing that day along the Gulf Coast."

The low temps -- which will reach below the freezing point in the entire U.S. with the exception of parts of the Pacific Coast and central and southern Florida -- have farmers taking action in the citrus-growing parts of the country, adds AccuWeather.com senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

"The risk of damaging cold to citrus, strawberries and other fruits and vegetables will stretch from southern Texas to Louisiana to Florida. Many citrus producers continue to take preventative measures to guard against the frosts and freezes," he says. "These measures include spraying the groves with water and the use of smudge pots. Both measures are only effective in marginal temperature situations. Some producers have chosen to harvest their crop early, at a lower price, rather than risk a severe loss. A frost or light freeze actually sweetens the citrus crop."

Looking ahead, temperatures will stay around the freezing point in those southern parts of the country as Arctic air continues to slam points to the north.

"Temperatures over much of citrus country in Florida will dip to between 27 and 34 degrees again Tuesday morning and perhaps Wednesday morning," says AccuWeather.com ag meteorologist Dale Mohler.

"Thursday and Friday (at least) should be days with high temperatures not climbing above zero in the western Corn Belt northward through the northern Plains. Saturday highs will be in the teens throughout the Delta, and likely will not get above freezing that day along the Gulf Coast," adds Notis. "By Friday morning, sub-zero lows are likely as far south as northwestern Arkansas and northeastern Oklahoma, and Saturday morning will likely not be much different."

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It's cold out there.

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