Cold spell continues through the week

MANATEE — As winter tightened its grip on Manatee County, farmers, homeowners and the homeless were all bracing for a blast of even more frigid air today.

Monday’s start of a three-day cold snap, while it didn’t pack quite enough punch to damage tender strawberries, potatoes and other crops in the eastern part of the county, did find homeowners covering their non-cold-hardy plants and 130 homeless men waking up in Manatee’s only shelter.

A high pressure system north of Minnesota met a low pressure area east of New England and those two features are producing this brisk stream of air moving into the local area, said Richard Rude, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

Manatee residents will awake today to clear skies and temperatures in the low 30s. The highs for today will be in the mid 50s.

The same conditions are expected Wednesday, but Thursday there will be a warm-up with highs in the mid 60s, Rude said.

Saturday and Sunday will be cold again with lows in the lower 30s and highs only in the upper 50s, Rude said.

Farmers and homeowners were warned by the National Weather Service that due to a vanishing cloud cover, the thermometer may not stay at 32 or 33 degrees today as it did Monday.

“We’re going to be on duty all night,” said Dave O’Brien of C&D Fruit & Vegetable on State Road 64, which turned water on its 115 acres of strawberries early Monday to guard them against the cold when temps hit 33.

The water turns to ice and encases the tender plants, offering some protection.

“We did have frost,” O’Brien said. “But it didn’t get below 32. It didn’t get into the upper 20s.”

Strawberry farmers generally agree that strawberry plants are damaged when the temperature hits 28 degrees.

“I don’t think it got too bad,” said Crystal Snodgrass, vegetable agent at the University of Florida Extension Office in Palmetto. “I haven’t heard anyone who lost any crops.”

The Extension Office received 15 calls Monday from homeowners asking how to protect their plants from the cold, said Lisa Hickey, an extension agent for the master gardener program.

If homeowners don’t have typical cold-hardy plants, they are instructed to water them really well because a fed plant can combat weather stress, Hickey said.

“They should also cover their plants with a sheet or blanket, but not plastic,” Hickey added.

Between 140 and 150 people were expected to stay in the Salvation Army lodge today, well above the bed capacity, which is 102, said Ed Wickman, men’s shelter manager.

“Those who don’t get beds will be sleeping on four-inch-thick mats,” Wickman said.

The record for occupancy at the shelter is 180, during Hurricane Charley in 2004, Wickman said.

Not having a closet to hang them in, men often get tired of carrying their donated jackets during the day when it warms up and they just leave them somewhere, Wickman said.

“No matter how many times we tell them to save their jackets we just don’t control them during the day,” Wickman said.

There is nothing to do but give the homeless more jackets at night. That is why the Salvation Army always needs jackets, Wickman said.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.

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