Saturday, October 15, 2005

Yes Virginia, There Is Cold In Florida...Not For A While Though.

Posted by Picasa

It gets cold in Florida. I know...that's not what they tell you, but you can die of hypothermia in Florida especially if you're wet, and we have lots of water.

In 1981 it snowed in St. Augustine, Florida. It lasted for a couple of days and my surfing buddy Paul took the skeg off his board and went "snow surfing" down the slopes of the old fort downtown. He probably invented snow boarding and didn't realize it.

In December of 1989, it was 3 degrees here and an ice storm knocked out power in Gainesville for about a week. Roads were covered with ice and Floridians were crashing left and right.

During the "storm of the century" in 1993, I drove home from Fort Walton Beach through a snow covered countryside. When I pulled in the yard my wife and little girls were out catching snowflakes on their tongues.

It's not just humans who get into trouble when we have a cold snap. Lots of Florida plants and critters wind up dead when the "mercury" dips below freezing.

These freezes are very hard on tropical plants that are at the northern extreme of their cold tolerance. You could have an orange tree here that you nurtured for years and lose it in one night of 15 degree weather.

When we get freezing temps below 25 degrees or so, we call this a "hard freeze". The teens are especially tough on Florida plants and wildlife. The duration of the freeze is another factor. A few hours may not cause much damage, but the sustained freeze can be devastating.

Seaturtles, Manatees, and some of our fish often die or become incapacitated by hard freezes that last for a day or so. Our manatees are really at the northern extreme of their range and can suffer badly during a freeze. Generally as soon as the water temps begin to drop, they congregate in spring runs to stay warm. A spring run is the outflow from one of our beautiful springs. The ground water that issues from these springs is crystal clear and averages 72 degrees...year round.

The manatees in the picture were spending the winter in Blue Springs near DeLand, Florida. Manatees have also adapted to the warm outflow from coastal power plants.

They are delightful creatures. I have snorkeled with them in Crystal River as they cruise around munching aquatic plants. Once on an early morning, I watched a pair mating...not quite as gentle then. Lots of swirling and splashing.

They didn't seem cold at all.


Wayne said...

Before I start, FC, I swear I've looked at your blog in the last 24 hours and suddenly there's this finger and earlier description and I know I didn't see it yesterday! Anyway, because I don't want it to get lost in earlier comments I just wanted to say that that's really the grossest thing I've seen so far :-) . And I'm a biologist. Hope we're not talking gangrene here!

One thing I've enjoyed telling students over the years about freezing temperatures and orange groves in Florida is the practice of spraying water on the trees in impending freezes. The freezing water releases heat, a lot of it, and warms the trees beneath. Is this true?

pablo said...

"The teens are especially tough on Florida plants and wildlife." The same is the case in Missouri. The teens often leave trash and beer cans all over the place. Make campfires wherever they want. TP houses and drive over lawns. They're scofflaws!

Also, I see you HAVE been to Roundrock. Else, how would you have been able to take that picture of L and me skinnydipping that you posted today?

Jim said...


It hurts to look at that finger, and no, your friend didn't invent snowboarding, I did in 1964 while boarding down a slope in New York City's Central Park on a discarded ironing board, it just took a while to catch on.

Do you suppose that was Pablo and L you watched splashing around & mating?


Floridacracker said...

Pretty gross, but no gangrene. It's pretty normal with just a little less sensitivity at the tip...some little nerve was cut. I blame my typos on it.

The spraying water on the Orange trees does work, they also spray strawberry fields. I had always heard it worked as insulation. If the plant is coated with 32 degree ice, it is essentially kept at 32 even if the air temp falls much lower. That was from a farmer.

The other day, I just happened to read it was the heat of fusion as the ice melted that warmed the plants. That was in a textbook.

I think the farmer was right since heat of fusion would only seem to apply when the water was changing phase.

The negative side of this practice is the unbelievable amounts of ground water that is sprayed per freezing night. Millions and millions of gallons.

Floridacracker said...

Does L. read your comments on other sites...hmmmm, I'm thinking least you didn't make that observation after the beached whale post a while back!

LOL! So you were the one who kicked off the snow board craze.

Wayne said...

I'm real glad I wasn't propogating bad info, FC. The phase change does liberate a lot of heat, so it made sense to me.

The upshot of the water sprayed is that it does eventually go back into the ground. Of course there's a lot of energy involved in spraying it.

I had the impression you were farther south - are you more in the central Florida/Gainesville area? (I don't want to press for any precise location, of course!, just had the romantic impression you were an Everglades guy!)

Thunder Dave said...

Don't forget, I was there when it "snowed" in P-Cola. Later this winter, I'll share some pics of our white Christmas from last year (24 inches in 24 hours). By the way you didn't even comment on my painless digital photography yesterday. (lol)

Floridacracker said...

I'm in the big bend area somewhere between Crystal River, Cedar Key, and Steinhatchee...and yes, Gainesville is our big city. Very, wild, very rural still.
As for the freeze prevention water spraying, the water does go back in the ground, but can actually wind up in a different shallow aquifer instead of the deeper Floridan (not a typo) due to confining layers of impermeable clay/rock. I know strawberry farm neighbors often have dry wells after a least for a while.

I believe I was the only comment on your campfire photo. Everyone else fell asleep waiting for you to finally POST SOMETHING! Don't tell me you're busier than I am you stinker.

Zanne said...

Living in the frigid north, here's what we were always told about a hard frost..... the frost crystals act like a magnifying glass and intensify the effect of light, causing the leaf tissues to "burn". Keeping a constant spray on the plant disallows the frost crystals from forming.

Like I said, that's what I've been told. Where's a geeky scientist when you need one?

We encountered manatees in the great mangrove forests in Belize. Unfortunately it was all but impossible to see them in the water dyed the color of ink from the black mangrove roots.

How fantastic you were able to actually swim with them. Something to remember forever.

I shall now move on to the serious wound post.

Floridacracker said...

If you ever go on one of your fishing trips to Crystal River, FL, there's a dozen dive shops that will take you for a manatee snorkel trip. Peak time to see sea cows is the cold winter months.

Zanne said...

I was in Crystal River last February. Unfortunately I arrived too late in the day, after a draining drive from Orlando. Missed the manatee tour. Sigh. Guess I'll just have to return, huh?

pablo said...

Okay, I've decided that's not really a picture of L and me. You can tell that it isn't since the water is so clear. The water in my lake is more tea colored.

Rurality said...

Oh, manatees, nice! This is so much nicer than pictures of cut off fingers. :)

The storm of the century in '93 - we got that one too. Twelve inches of snow in Birmingham Alabama! I camped out in bed under 20 quilts, with a flashlight and many good books and no electricity.

Weary Hag said...

FC ... wonderful photo (as usual). You know, I'm sort of surprised that the marine creatures don't move on to warmer waters, even temporarily, when the cold sets in. I would have thought that was an instinctive type thing.

I too must move on the the injury post, though your readers have intimidated me a little here)

By the way ... we finally got the rain that was missing all summer. So much so that our pond out back flooded tremendously, and we had fish in our yard (no lie). The dock was completely underwater, as was our two foot rock wall. Incredible.

Floridacracker said...

Sorry about the mushy finger shot. Maybe oversharing huh?
Glad you liked the manatees...hard not to. That '93 storm was an amazing event.

Great news! A full pond is such a good a full wallet.