(UF/IFAS) — Just one freeze could cripple much of Florida’s citrus crop. It happened 30 years ago. Chris Oswalt, a multi-county commercial citrus agent for University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension, remembers the frost-bitten evenings. Christmas 1983, January 1985 and Christmas 1989 marked three of the worst citrus freezes in the state’s history.
Even though you don’t see frequent frosts in citrus groves, Oswalt espouses the virtues of a service called Winter Weather Watch.
Citrus growers can subscribe to Winter Weather Watch each year, from November through March.
Through Winter Weather Watch, established about 50 years ago by UF/IFAS Extension, Florida citrus growers can get weather information and expertise on how to protect their fruit from a freeze.
Winter Weather Watch costs $100 for updated weather forecasts targeted specifically to citrus growers, anytime, day or night, Oswalt said. To subscribe, click here. Growers call a number to get the latest short- and long-term weather forecasts to keep their crops from cold damage.
“These are the official forecasts out of the National Weather Service (NWS) offices in Tampa and Miami,” said Oswalt. The forecasts cover the citrus-producing counties in Florida, from Polk in the north to Collier in the southwest.
Fred Crosby, formerly the meteorologist-in-charge for the weather service in Ruskin, near Tampa, helps UF/IFAS Extension with the interpretation of the NWS weather forecasts.
“He was there when the NWS provided agricultural weather forecasting and did a lot of that over his career in Ruskin,” Oswalt said.
The program originated because the growers needed information when cold weather was approaching. The weather service office in Ruskin always provided agricultural weather forecasts, Oswalt said.
But sometimes a phone line – or a forecaster – wasn’t easily accessible to citrus growers who needed weather information fast. Only two or three meteorologists might be working the overnight shift, so sometimes the line would be busy, and that does no good for the grower who needs weather and crop protection data as fast as possible.
Because of limited technology, UF/IFAS Extension agents would record weather information on a machine, and growers could call that number. That was the genesis of Winter Weather Watch, Oswalt said.
“Growers could subscribe to this service and get this ag weather forecast,” he said. And they still can today. “We provide growers with weather information and the education they need to better help protect their crop.”