Arctic air heads to Manatee

MANATEE -- Another cold snap has descended on Manatee County, bringing with it freezing temperatures for the next two days, according to the National Weather Service.

The arctic air began making its way south Tuesday night when temperatures dropped into the upper 30s by the coast and mid-30s inland. And things will cool down even more.

The coldest will be tonight when the mercury dips to about 33 near the coast and in the upper 20s inland.

“It’s going to be pretty cold,” said meteorologist Logan Johnson.

Wednesday’s highs are expected to be in the mid-50s by the coast and upper 50s inland. Come Thursday, temperatures will barely warm up with only a degree or two difference from where they were the day before, Johnson said.

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.”

By Friday, most of the cold snap should have passed through when the highs will be in the mid- to lower 60s throughout Manatee County, with lows in the mid- to upper 40s.

“By Saturday we’ll be back to the 70s and a low in the mid- to upper 40s,” Johnson said.

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.”

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