Clovis News

Valley citrus avoids freeze damage

The San Joaquin Valley's citrus crops dodged a bullet Wednesday night and Thursday morning when temperatures didn't drop as low as expected.

Kevin Severns, general manager at Orange Cove-Sanger Citrus, said he spent much of early Thursday morning visiting groves from Orange Cove to Clovis.

"The coldest temperature I saw was 29," Severns said. "It was a very pleasant surprise."

Some forecasters had predicted temperatures would drop to 23 or 24 degrees, Severns said. The relatively warm temperatures "gave us a little happier Thanksgiving," he said.

Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, the Exeter-based trade association, said growers reported isolated pockets of 27 degrees for short durations.

But most groves were at 29 or 30 degrees, also for short durations, Nelsen said.

He said most citrus growers were running water Wednesday afternoon to warm the ground. This radiates heat as temperatures fall. Wind machines keep the rising warm air in a grove for a period of time, which elevates grove temperatures about four degrees.

Nelsen said temperatures began dropping as expected late Wednesday night, but early-morning clouds appeared, significantly raising temperatures.

Nelsen said growers were concerned because the current crop is late-maturing, making it more susceptible to damage from the cold in part because the fruit's protective skin hasn't had time to thicken.

Nelsen said about 95% of the citrus crop still is on the trees, with an estimated value of $1 billion.

Citrus damage can occur when temperatures fall to 28 degrees or lower for four hours or longer.

Severns said he was glad to see a relatively warm Thursday afternoon. He said it's especially dangerous for citrus when there's a freezing night, a very cold day, then another freezing night.

"It's the second night that gets you," Severns said.

David Spector, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said Fresno's low on Wednesday night-Thursday morning was 31 degrees.

It was the first time Fresno has gone below freezing this season.

Spector said the rest of the Valley's lows were in the upper 20s and lower 30s. He said Hanford and Merced dropped to 27 and Madera to 28.

Fresno's expected overnight low was 31.

The forecast is for a warmer weekend as a storm moves in, but frost again for Monday and Tuesday mornings.

Nelsen said growers expected Thursday night-Friday morning to reach lows of 29 or 30 -- low enough to cause concern but not despair.

"They'll probably sleep with one eye and one ear open," Nelsen said. "But all in all, it's a scary time."

Severns said he's been in the citrus business long enough to know there's no sure thing when freezing conditions hit the Valley.

"Time will tell," Severns said. "We still have to get through the night [Thursday]."

High temperatures for today in the Fresno area should be in the mid to upper 50s, with overnight lows around 40, said weather service meteorologist Michael Bingham.

Saturday is expected to bring a chance of rain in the afternoon and evening, with highs in the mid 50s and lows around 40.

Sunday should bring clearer skies, with highs around 55. The normal high for this time of year is 59 degrees, with a normal low of 40, Bingham said.