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Bay area braces for real blast of winter

By SHEELA RAMAN
Published January 29, 2007


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photo
[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
Alec Remiesiewicz and Bridget Belanger, both 15, brave falling temperatures and waves Sunday at Clearwater Beach.

photo

If you thought winter had forgotten Tampa Bay, think again.

Temperatures in the Tampa Bay area are predicted to plunge tonight and Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service says.

A freeze watch is in effect for Citrus, Hernando, Pasco and eastern Hillsborough counties, where temperatures could drop to the low 20s tonight. A freeze watch is issued when temperatures are expected to stay at or below freezing for three or more hours.

The cold spell is expected to taper off by Thursday, when high temperatures will be back to the mid 70s and lows will hover in low 60s. The cold will be sharpened by chill from blustery winds, said Ryan Sharp, forecaster for the weather service.

The arctic air mass is bringing the cold, the region's first of the season.

The frigid air will do more than make people turn up the heat. It brings all kinds of reactions.

Police, for instance, call inclement weather "Officer Rain" because it keeps trouble tamped down, said dispatch Officer David Strid of St. Pete Beach.

Bad weather keeps people out of the beach bars, and "fewer people equals fewer problems," he said.

St. Petersburg police said street crime almost always goes down in the cold, but if a front persists for a long stretch, police deal with more domestic disturbances as more people stay indoors.

After an especially mild winter so far, the chill could be a jolt to the homeless. But the forecast did not seem to bother residents of the tent camp at Fifth Avenue N and 18th Street in St. Petersburg, where homeless tents have been of a running source of conflict with the city.

"I'm from Denver so it's not going to be a big issue," said C.B. Barriss, 50, on Sunday. "Cold is cold and hot is hot. You got to do what you can."

Jabar Bennett, 30, was equally philosophical: "We're going to let God handle it."

Authorities were making plans to open shelters and look after those who will need protection from the weather.

Some Citrus growers were concerned about the prospect of temperatures in the low 20s.

Kathy Oleson, owner of Boyett's Grove east of Brooksville, said she worries about the duration of sub-freezing temperatures.

The unusually warm January has caused some of her grapefruit, orange and tangerine trees to blossom several weeks early. Oleson said that a prolonged freeze could damage delicate blossoms and new growth and could hurt her harvest.

"The damage usually comes when it freezes longer than 5 to 7 hours," Oleson said. "We'll be watching it closely, but right now I don't expect it to last that long."

Weather forecaster Ryan Sharp said that because it has been a warm winter so far, the cold front could especially damage spring plants that are already beginning to show themselves.

"I'd advise anyone who has sensitive plants to bring them inside," he said.

Fast Facts:

Brrrrrrr

Expected lows for tonight and Tuesday morning:

New Port Richey: 34

St. Petersburg: 42

Crystal River: 24

Clearwater: 37

Inverness: 22

Tampa: 33

National Weather

Service

Fast facts

Need some shelter?

These are contacts for shelter information

Pinellas County Emergency Management: (727) 464-5550

Hillsborough County Emergency Management: (813) 276-2385

Pasco County Emergency Management: (727) 847-8137

Hernando County Emergency Management: (352) 754-4083.

Citrus County Emergency Management: (352) 746-6555.

[Last modified January 29, 2007, 00:57:02]


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