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Manatee under hard freeze warning

MANATEE -- Manatee and 12 other Florida counties are under a hard freeze warning from midnight tonight until 9 a.m. Thursday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

A hard freeze warning means sub-freezing temperatures are imminent or highly likely, conditions that will kill crops and other sensitive vegetation.

Temperatures are expected to drop to around 29 degrees tonight in Bradenton, and cooler inland, according to the National Weather Service.

Wind chill values could go as low as 21 in Bradenton, with north-northwest winds between 8 mph and 10 mph.

Temperatures early Wednesday morning dipped to 43 degrees at around 6 a.m. at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.

Thursday’s high was expected near 56, but with wind chill values as low as 20 early. Thursday night into Friday morning called for a low in Bradenton around 34.

The arctic air began making its way south Tuesday night when temperatures dropped into the upper 30s by the coast and mid-30s inland.

These cooler temperatures may not be the best news for consumers, warns Ralph Garrison, president of the Manatee County Farm Bureau.

“In the whole state of Florida, the vegetables are gone,” he said. “So what you’re going to see is much higher prices at the store.”

Florida usually feeds most of the Eastern seaboard this time of year, Garrison said. But the recent cold snaps have done significant damage to tomatoes, beans and cucumbers to the point where they are “all gone.”

Garrison said most of the produce will now be coming from Central and South America until a new harvest is grown.

“Rinse thoroughly before you cook,” Garrison said. “It’ll be six to eight weeks until you find product from the U.S.”

And while some produce took a bigger hit than others this year, it’s not all a loss, Garrison said. Greens such as certain lettuces, broccoli and cabbage have held up fairly well with the cold, along with most citrus fruits.

Since the first cold snap at the start of December until Dec. 31, the state lost $370 million in direct or indirect and induced losses; about 5,250 people have lost their jobs or had their work interrupted; and the state has taken a $21 million loss in taxes to local governments, according to Sterling Ivey, spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Gov. Rick Scott has extended a state of emergency and directed the state Department of Transportation to relax the weight, height, length and width restrictions for commercial vehicles transporting crops to processing sites.

Battling the cold snaps, Garrison said, proves it takes one key thing to be a farmer these days: “It takes guts, you never know what will happen.”