TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. — Across the so-called Sunshine State, oranges and strawberries are freezing, icicles are hanging off palm fronds, and iguanas paralyzed by the cold are falling out of trees.
Temperatures have plunged as low as -6 C in recent days, forcing people used to wearing flip-flops year-round to put on earmuffs.
“I am a warm-weather boy. There’s no way I’m going out there,” laughed Archie Adkins of Pensacola Beach as he pointed at bundled-up beachgoers.
And Floridians better bundle up: Flurries are forecast for the Panhandle on Thursday, and temperatures in the rest of the state are running at least 20 degrees below normal.
Scenes from around frozen Florida on Wednesday:
Every year on Jan. 6, the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates Epiphany. As part of the celebration in Tarpon Springs, a white cross is thrown into the Spring Bayou, and teenage boys dive in to retrieve it.
Finding the heavy wooden cross gives a teen a special blessing, which according to custom, will bring prosperity all year.
It was 3 C when the 66 teens dove in Wednesday. The water was 10 C on the surface.
With some 20,000 people looking on, the boys swam in a frenzy. Seventeen seconds later, 16-year-old Dimitri Kalogiannis retrieved the cross. Then came the hard part: getting out of the cold water into the colder air.
Dripping wet, Kalogiannis was hoisted onto the shoulders of his fellow teen divers, who carried him two blocks to the Greek Orthodox Church.
Still clutching the white cross — and shivering — Kalogiannis stood at the church’s altar, barefoot and wet.
“When I was underwater, I saw a white glow. It just glowed,” he said. “It wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be.”
Julie and John Arnold’s 260-acre orange grove in the central Florida town of Clermont was filled with large icicles dangling from trees. And nearby canals were nearly a foot below average because of all the water the Arnolds and their neighbours have sprayed on crops to protect them.
They estimated about 10 per cent of the Temple oranges on their land were lost, but that type of citrus is a small part of their total. Their other oranges were almost entirely intact.
The couple has been working around-the-clock for nearly two days to save their crops. Far colder weather has descended on their trees in the past, but the cold usually does not last so long.
“I’ve done a half-marathon before. This is much more nerve-wracking, much more exhausting,” Julie said. “This is the ultimate endurance race.”
State officials in Tallahassee were optimistic that crop damage was minimal but cautioned that it was too early to tell for sure.
“That’s the $64,000 question,” said Terence McElroy, spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “The preliminary indications are that there has not been any catastrophic damage.”
State officials were still urging farmers to take every measure possible because the hard freeze in some areas was expected to last for most of the week.
“There are precautions that can be taken, but in the final analysis, there’s only so much you can do,” McElroy said.