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Record Cold in Sunshine State; More on Way With AM-Storm Rdp Bjt

February 25, 1989

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ Unusually cold weather for Florida caught network television by surprise Friday, and citrus growers and vegetable farmers braced for a second night of arctic air.

Except for a potato crop in north Florida and some strawberry losses, most fruit and vegetables made it through Thursday night’s first frosty blast of the winter without much trouble as a blustery, bone-chilling cold wave swept the length of the peninsula Thursday and early Friday.

And unlike states to the north which had snow-covered highways, the snow that blew across Florida’s northern tier from the Panhandle to Jacksonville was just enough to amaze people before it melted.

Police reported a minor traffic jam in Jacksonville Thursday afternoon when drivers stopped along a major thoroughfare to watch snow fall - the first flurries there since March 1, 1986.

″I’ve never seen it snow that hard here,″ said Pat Jones of Fort Walton Beach, in the Panhandle. ″Maybe it has snowed longer, but I’ve never seen it come down that hard. It lasted about five minutes, was very thick and very gray.″

Cities as far south as Miami had record lows in the 30s Friday morning.

The chilly weather at Miami Beach, which had a low of 39, forced the crew and stars of NBC’s ″Today″ show indoors to the Carlyle Hotel. The program had moved to Miami to boost a local affiliate and to show some warm weather to the rest of the shivering nation.

Snowbirds - Northerners who move south for the winter - gathered outside the hotel, bundled up in sweaters and coats to get a glimpse of Jane Pauley and Bryant Gumbel.

Nelson Sheinker, a retiree from Montreal, said the cool temperatures at the beach didn’t bother him. ″We’re used to it. It’s not that bad,″ he said.

Dick Wallace of Erie, Pa., was not complaining either.

″This is 50 degrees warmer than the place we just left,″ he said.

Anyway, Wallace said, the Today people shouldn’t have been surprised: ″A week ago (″Today″ show weatherman) Willard Scott warned us it would be cold.″

Temperatures early Saturday were predicted in the teens and low 20s, meaning a hard freeze or frost all the way into lush citrus-and vegetable- growing areas of central and southern Florida.

″It’s going to be colder than last night,″ said forecaster Emmett Ricks.

There were scattered reports of damage to peaches and strawberries. But farmers in the heart of strawberry country, Plant City near Tampa, said cloud cover kept temperatures just above freezing and saved the fragile crop just one week before the annual Plant City Strawberry Festival.

″The timing couldn’t be worse,″ said Cheryl Meeks of Plant City. ″Strawberries are at their prime. The fields and plants are loaded; they’re just hanging there.″

Dick Whalley, a spokesman for the state’s billion-dollar citrus industry, said temperatures Thursday and Friday were not low enough for long enough periods to cause any damage anywhere in the citrus belt.

Reggie Brown, spokesman for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, said, ″Basically most of the industry got by without any significant problem.″

One exception was a crop of early-spring potatoes in the Hastings-Palatka area. The spuds had grown larger than normal because of the unusually warm weather of the past few weeks, and they could not all be rebedded in time to escape freezing temperatures Thursday night, Brown said. The extent of damage was unknown.