County agriculture inspectors are finding minimal freeze damage in samples of fruit that was picked last week. But officials say the worst may be yet to come.
The San Joaquin Valley's citrus growing regions have been hit hard with several days of subfreezing temperatures. The frigid weather continued Sunday night with temperatures in some areas ranging from the low-to-mid 20s.
And still more freezing weather lies ahead -- at least for a couple more days.
The National Weather Service has extended the hard freeze warning for the central and southern San Joaquin Valley until 8 a.m. Wednesday. Low temperatures are expected to dip to between 21 and 27 degrees today and Wednesday mornings from Merced to Bakersfield, the weather service said. Overnight temperatures on the Valley floor are expected to begin rising into the upper 20's to low 30s by Wednesday night.
Monday afternoon, samples of fruit that were picked on Friday were inspected by county agriculture staffs. In Fresno County, inspectors carefully looked at sliced segments of citrus from navel, mandarin and lemon trees.
Inspectors were looking for signs of damage that included dryness and ice crystals that resemble tiny white specks.
So far, the samples inspected Monday showed minimal damage. Samples of fruit that will be picked early this week from the coldest parts of the county will likely show the toll that six days of freezing cold has had on the Valley's citrus crop.
"I don't think we will have a true picture of what has happened until Friday, when we take a look at that fruit," said Fred Rinder, Fresno County's deputy agriculture commissioner. "Each additional night of freezing will compound the problem."
In Tulare County, inspectors found damage to navel oranges was significant in groves with no frost protection, south of Porterville and north of Dinuba.
"That was the worst-case scenario," said Gavin Iacono, Tulare County deputy agricultural commissioner. "But in other areas with protection there was zero to low damage on the navels."
County officials also found low damage to lemons and low to moderate damage in some samples of mandarins.
Growers and their employees have worked round the clock to protect the Valley's citrus crop -- valued at $1.5 billion. Farmers have run wind machines and irrigation water for up to 12 hours a night in some areas of the Valley.
Citrus industry officials estimate the total cost of six nights of frost protection has risen to $23 million.
Despite the cost, the citrus industry is still optimistic.
"The frost protection technology we have today has allowed producers to better prepare for freeze conditions and protect the crop from serious damage," said Joel Nelsen, California Citrus Mutual president.
Citrus growers weren't the only ones taking precautionary methods against the cold spell.
Jon Reelhorn, owner of Belmont Nursery in Fresno, said some plants were moved to greenhouses and others were covered with a frost cloth in order to protect the 35 acres of plants and flowers against below-freezing temperatures.
"When we get a cold spell like this we have to stop what we're doing and take measures to protect all of the plants," Reelhorn said.
Flowers and plants at the nursery may have sustained minimal damage, he said, but it's still too early to tell.
Reelhorn advises homeowners to move plants indoors, keep plants in a garage, and if that's not possible to put an outdoor umbrella over the plants to keep them warm.
The cold snap is expected to be over by the end of the week with overnight temperatures gradually warming up throughout the Valley, meteorologist Cindy Bean said.
"By Sunday most of the Valley should be above freezing temperatures," she said.
In Fresno, overnight lows are forecast at 34 degrees Wednesday night and will gradually increase, with Thursday and Friday's lows forecast at mid 30s.
The icy nights over the last week have sent some people to community warming shelters.
The city of Fresno has sheltered up to 28 people a night since the Frank H. Ball Neighborhood Center in southwest Fresno opened on Dec. 3., said Nicole Demera, the city's community coordinator.
Heating safety tips
Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from heating equipment such as a furnace, fireplace, wood stove or portable space heater.
Have a 3-foot "kid-free zone" around open fires and space heaters.
Always turn portable heaters off when leaving a room or going to bed.
Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to prevent sparks from escaping.
Allow fireplace ashes to completely cool before disposing them. Place in a tightly covered metal container at least 10 feet away from your house and any other nearby buildings. Never empty fireplace or wood stove ashes directly into a trash can.
Never use your oven to heat your home.
If using fossil fuel heating, install and maintain carbon monoxide (CO) alarms to avoid the risk of CO poisoning. Make sure your home has working smoke alarms as well.
Source: Cal Fire, www.fire.ca.gov