Lakewood Ranch Herald

Cold on way out in Manatee

MANATEE -- Good news: After another frigid start this morning, the Arctic air will finally be leaving the area.

And soon you’ll be able to break out the flip-flops, shorts and other Florida winter garb once again.

Temperatures are expected to be mostly sunny and warmer today with highs in the mid- to upper-60s and overnight temperatures in the lower-40s inland and mid-40s along the coast, according to Paul Close, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Ruskin.

From there, things will warm up even more with Friday highs expected in the mid-70s, with lows in in the low-50s Saturday morning, Close said.

The weekend should continue the warming trend.

“The cold spell will be done and it will stay mild for the rest of the period,” Close said.

Freezing temperatures were recorded in all of the Bay area’s counties early Wednesday.

Lows overnight dipped as low as 17 degrees in Hernando, 19 in Crystal River and 21 degrees in Inverness.

Closer to home, Lakewood Ranch bottomed out at 28 degrees, as did Brandon.

Many local farmers were happy that their crops were not too badly impacted by the near-freezing and, in some places, below-freezing temperatures.

Normally cold weather is bad news for tomato growers, but fortunately tomato season is over or near its ends throughout the area.

There were still some losses.

About 30 to 35 acres of tomato plants at Hunsader Farms were damaged. Much of the fruit was still OK to eat locally, according to owner David Hunsader, but it wouldn’t hold up to shipping.

“We went down to 25 degrees last night,” said Hunsader, adding a majority of the tomatoes planted during season have already been harvested.

To speed up sales, Hunsader will sell tomatoes from the you-pick farm for $3 a basket until the remaining crop is gone.

Maria Saulle and her husband, Mike Saulle, spent much of Wednesday at the farm picking tomatoes to use in pasta sauce and to give to friends and family.

“The price is good. I have no complaints,” said Maria Saulle, as she glanced over at the stocks of bright red tomatoes. “Look at all these tomatoes, it’s a shame.”

Other fruits and vegetables fared much better.

“The strawberries are fine, so is the cauliflower, onions and broccoli,” Hunsader said.

Like Hunsader, Steven John, a citrus production manager at SMR Farms in Lakewood Ranch, had a couple of long nights keeping an eye on crops.

He said there was some freeze damage, but the oranges weren’t damaged enough to not be used for juice.

“We had some pretty cold temperatures,” John said. “(But) we fared pretty well.”

At O’Brien Family Farms in East Manatee, most of the strawberries made it through OK.

“We froze the berries,” said Tom O’Brien, owner of O’Brien Family Farms, adding that they maintained the plants at 28 degrees

As with the oranges, the result of the cold snap will be a sweeter fruit.

“The strawberries will be bigger and sweeter,” O’Brien said.

-- Bay News 9 contributed to this report.