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Washington Voices

Another harsh winter killing crops

Thu., Jan. 24, 2013, midnight

For much of the Northern Hemisphere, this has been another harsh winter. Bitterly cold temperatures have been felt in parts of California and Arizona over the past few weeks, damaging or killing citrus and vegetable crops. Temperatures in the lower 20s kept farmers in California’s San Joaquin Valley fighting to protect about $1.5 billion worth of citrus trees in the region.

Many people in Arizona have lost tropical plants. Some are describing this year’s freezes as the worst ever. Temperatures in the upper 20s in San Diego last week forced zookeepers to offer extra heat and shelter for many animals in order to prevent hypothermia.

The below-freezing temperatures have pushed up the price of lettuce nationally. Last week in Yuma, Ariz., the cost of a carton of lettuce jumped from $8 to $20 in just four days.

The mandarin orange crop also is at risk. Mandarin oranges begin to freeze at 32 degrees rather than 28 degrees like other citrus. Growers have been using wind machines and irrigation in order to keep the warmer air near the ground. According to Citrus Mutual, “more than 1,300 of California’s 3,900 citrus growers will suffer at least ‘moderate’ damage to both trees and crops.”

Temperatures will be moderating a bit across California and Arizona. But, farther to the east in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, more hard freezes were predicted through the end of January. Remember the tomato shortages of 2011? If more frigid temperatures arrive, then we could see another repeat of what happened then.

In terms of our weather, as of early Tuesday morning, temperatures have remained below freezing since Jan. 11, thanks to the persistent fog and low clouds. We’ll likely see readings climb above 32 as that strong and stagnant high pressure ridge finally breaks down allowing milder air to move into our region.

With the storm door opening a bit, look for occasional rain and snow between now and early February. It looks like the second half of winter won’t be as snowy as the first half, but our annual snowfall total should be a little above normal.

 Randy Mann can be reached at www.facebook.com/wxmann or go to www.longrangeweather.com for additional information.


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