By Chris Oswalt
There was a time back in 1962, on Dec. 12 and 13, when a devastating freeze in Florida decimated a significant portion of the state’s citrus industry. In Polk County, the freeze caused serious damage to 134,000 acres of citrus. In 1963, citrus growers were concerned about receiving timely weather information and frost warning bulletins. Back then, the Federal-State Frost Warning Service in Lakeland provided the agricultural weather forecasts, including the frost-warning bulletins.
With the assistance of the Federal-State Frost Warning Service and the Polk County Board of Commissioners, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension Polk County initiated a project to help growers obtain critical weather information during significant Florida freeze events. At that time, weather information, specifically agricultural weather information, was made available by a teletype service used by the weather service to distribute weather information. As part of the program, the Extension office received this teletype service.
The service resulted in a broader distribution of the freeze information to citrus growers. On freeze nights, the Extension office would receive bulletins along with current air temperature information and forecasts. Growers could obtain this critical information by local telephone. Before this program, it had been quite challenging to get this information from the frost warning service due to the enormous number of phone calls on a freeze night. Local radio stations further exacerbated this at that time because they did not operate 24 hours a day.
The program expanded into other areas of the state and is currently known as Winter Weather Watch. It is provided out of the UF/IFAS Extension Polk County office. Going into its 57th season, the program continues to distribute National Weather Service (NWS) forecast information. With an expert meteorologist’s help, Winter Weather Watch continues to help growers protect their crops from freezing temperatures. The service has evolved over the years, but the focus is still to provide growers with a consistently available source of NWS information with an eye toward freeze protection. Growers subscribing to the service are provided a toll-free number to call and hear up-to-date recorded NWS forecast information.
For registration information on this year’s Winter Weather Watch, see the November 2020 issue of Citrus from the Ridge to the Valley on the UF/IFAS Citrus Agents website.
Chris Oswalt is the UF/IFAS citrus Extension agent for Hillsborough and Polk counties.