Record-setting cold snap?

MANATEE — Palmetto’s Lance Linke stepped outside his mobile home at Tropic Isles on Monday and saw an astounding sight: thousands of dead fish floating in the canal behind his home, all victims of the cold snap.

“The bottom was white, all sizes, all different species,” Linke said of the canal that feeds Terra Ceia Bay.

The fish are among many living things suffering during the numbing cold wave caused by a high pressure system of arctic air sitting over Florida.

Today’s temperature was expected to dip well below 40 during the morning hours, making it 10 straight days of overnight temperatures below 40, tying the all-time Manatee and Sarasota record set in 2001, said Todd Barron, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

The cold snap of 2010 will most likely set the all-time record since overnight Wednesday is also expected to dip below 40, Barron added.

Thursday will finally begin a warming trend that will carry into the weekend, Barron said.

Among the victims of the cold were two small, juvenile green sea turtles brought to Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium unable to move their flippers due to the cold.

One of them, named Brady, was found by a fisherman on Bradenton Beach, said Suzi Fox, director of the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch.

The other, named Squeaky, was found on Longboat Key.

“They just look like floating pieces of debris on the water,” Fox said of the turtles, whose metabolisms slow down to barely functioning. “They can look dead when you pick them up. But you can tell if they are alive by touching their eyelids. That makes them move.”

Because it requires special knowledge to help cold-stunned turtles, Fox advises anyone who finds a sea turtle on a local beach, either alive or dead, to call Turtle Watch at 232-1405.

“We will come right out and remove it from the beach,” Fox said.

The prognosis for Squeaky and Brady looks good at Mote, but the same can’t be said for many of the estimated 1,500 “cold-stunned” turtles of all kinds which have now been gathered by wildlife employees and volunteers in the last few days.

State officials are also beginning to worry about manatees, which can suffer from cold stress syndrome when the water dips below 68 degrees.

“We are finding a lot of animals in their warm water habitats, like discharge canals at power plants and natural springs,” said Carli Segelson, a spokeswoman with the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission. “We are asking boaters to be vigilant watching for manatees at this time.”

Speaking of records, when Manatee and Sarasota residents woke up Monday and began turning on the heat in their homes and plugging in their space heaters, they contributed to another record — the record peak load of megawatt-hours of power at any one time in the history of Florida Power & Light.

“We recorded 24,345 MWh on Monday morning, which broke the record of 23,500 we set Sunday,” said FPL spokeswoman Sarah Marmion.

Marmion said the cold caused no rolling black-outs because FPL enacted some load management programs, but there were isolated outages all over the state.

At noon on Monday, 430 out of 164,000 Manatee County homes were without power and 780 of 246,000 Sarasota County residents had no service.

Isolated outages are expected to continue today but 1,300 FPL workers are on call statewide to respond to problems, Marmion said. Those who are without power are asked to call (800) 468-8243.

Most of Florida’s 9 million acres of agriculture are gripped by the cold and although damage estimates are not in yet, there have been some reports.

Turner Tree and Landscape suffered losses of a quarter million trees valued at more than $990,000, Darrell Turner, company president, reported Monday.

“But we are still very much in business,” Turner said.

It was 22 to 24 degrees for at least 12 hours at Turner’s Myakka City acreage.

The company operates six farms but the losses were most widespread at Myakka City, where virtually everything died, Turner said.

The biggest loss in Myakka City involved Washington Palms, where $600,000 were destroyed, Turner said.

Lesser damage occurred in Parrish and at his properties along Interstate-75, Turner said.

“It was the worst we have ever experienced,” Turner said.

“There is probably substantial damage to the tropical fish industry in the Tampa area,” said Terry McElroy, a Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services spokesman. “We are hearing in the northern citrus belt there is ice in fruit and possible damage to young citrus trees. There is known damage to the fern industry and even some vegetables in and around the Lake Okeechobee area have been hit.”

Manatee has been fortunate that it has been between crops for most crops except strawberries, which have experienced cold stress, local farmers said.

“We really won’t know for a number of days just how bad agriculture was hit,” McElroy said.

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

Related stories from Bradenton Herald