MANATEE -- If you think it is cold this morning, just wait until tonight.
The frigid conditions brought to Florida on Monday by a mass of Canadian high pressure were expected to tighten their grip tonight and Wednesday morning, with an expected low of 26 and strong northerly winds making it feel more like 20, according to the National Weather Service.
As a result, the Weather Service has issued a hard freeze warning for Manatee County and most of west-central Florida for tonight, from 10 p.m. to 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Manatee County and most of the Florida Gulf Coast was under a wind chill advisory expected to last until 10 a.m. today.
The pain will be relatively short-lived -- the expected high Wednesday is 59 and it should be back in the 70s by the weekend -- but that was of little relief for those who have to kick it into high gear whenever wintry conditions make an appearance here.
At the Salvation Army, officials Monday were ready for an expected influx of homeless people seeking shelter from the cold this week.
People will be able to stay for free at the Salvation Army location at 1204 14th St. W.
The Salvation Army also has blankets and jackets available for those who decide not to stay at the shelter, which can hold up to about 125 people.
“We’re pretty much set in place right now,” said Jerry Lybrand, assistant manager at the men’s lodge. “They’ll have a warm place to stay here.”
At Mariposa Nursery in East Manatee, garden center manager Debbie Naeve said Monday afternoon they were getting prepared for the dipping temperatures. About 60 percent of the 20 acres that make up the nursery were covered with frost cloth, an insulating blanket that protects plants from freezing conditions. “With what we expect, cover it, cover it, cover it,” Naeve said. And if temperatures drop even more, “then we’ll cover the rest of it tomorrow.” Gusty winds don’t make it easy to properly protect the plants. Naeve said pins are used to fasten the fabric in place. Naeve said the plants will most likely be uncovered Thursday.
At Mixon Fruit Farms, owner Dean Mixon said Monday night won’t be too cool, but the farm will begin taking precautions Tuesday. “It’s going to be the main night,” he said. Tonight, the low is expected to drop to 30 degrees, with a wind chill as low as 20 degrees into early Wednesday. Mixon said heaters will be placed in the tropical gardens section and irrigation will be turned on.
For today, forecasters were calling for a high of 51 -- and wind chills as low as 39 early in the day. Northerly winds were expected to be at 11 mph to 18 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph.
Tonight, the low was expected to drop to 26, but with north-northeasterly winds of only 3 mph to 6 mph.
During the past two winters, growers took major blows when temperatures plummeted, damaging crops. But Naeve is optimistic. “We’re prepared,” she said. “We’ve been through it enough. We had to learn the hard way.”