LATEST: Farmers on alert as storm dips temps in Florida

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) – The Latest on winter weather: (all times local):

10:10 a.m.

As a winter storm pushes cold temperatures deep into Florida, farmers across the state are on alert.

Citrus trees survive until temperatures fall to 28 degrees or less for at least three hours. So far, forecasts don’t show that happening in the Florida citrus-growing belt from Interstate 4 near Orlando and to the south.

Both citrus and strawberry growers protect their crops by running irrigation systems once the temperature dips toward 32 degrees. The freezing water creates ice, which releases heat that protects the fruit.

Strawberry growers typically run irrigation systems to “ice” the fruit at least once per season. There are about 8,000 acres of strawberry farms in the state, which is the second largest strawberry producing region in the U.S., according to the Florida Strawberry Growers Association. Most of the berries are grown just east of downtown Tampa.

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9:50 a.m.

An airport serving much of the Georgia and South Carolina coasts has closed.

The Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport announced in a statement about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday that it had closed as ice and snow fell on the Georgia coast.

The National Weather Service said a wintry mix of snow and freezing rain was expected Wednesday mostly along the Southeast’s Atlantic coast as a winter storm begins its march to the northeast.

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9:25 a.m.

Icy rain fell in Savannah on Wednesday morning as rush-hour traffic was far lighter than normal.

Those who did brave the frigid commute found police had closed many bridges, overpasses and elevated roadways that had become treacherous with ice.

Nick McCready said “there are accidents all over.”

McCready had just made his 25-mile commute from Savannah to Bluffton, South Carolina, before dawn Wednesday, only to go back home after 30 minutes at the office. “On my way back, I slid a little bit on a couple of bridges.”

He stopped at an open grocery store on his way home.

McCreadie said “I’m going to get a little bit of firewood just in case.” He has an outdoor fire pit.

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9:20 a.m.

The National Weather Service says snowfall is ending in Tallahassee and is heading east, across Interstate 10 and toward Jacksonville on Florida’s Atlantic coast.

In a tweet, the National Weather Service in Tallahassee said points to the east are getting “steady freezing rain, sleet and snow.” Officials also warn that dangerous driving conditions persist across the area.

Officials said about 0.1 inch (0.25 centimeter) of snow was reported on the roof of weather service office in Tallahassee.

Schools have closed in several northern Florida districts, while students across much of the area remain out on winter break.

In Jacksonville, the mayor told non-essential city employees to stay home on Wednesday.

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8:30 a.m.

Snow flurries are falling as far south as Tallahassee, Florida, where officials were forced to close a section of Interstate 10 due to icy conditions.

The National Weather Service predicted snow flurries across a swath of northern Florida, from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, on Wednesday morning. Accumulations were not expected.

On its Twitter account, The Tallahassee Police Department warned motorists that ice could form on bridges early Wednesday.

The weather service in Tallahassee tweeted that there’s one-tenth of an inch (0.25 centimeter) of snow on the roof of the building.

Schools in at least five districts canceled classes on Wednesday as well. In Tallahassee, students were supposed to return from winter break, but got another day thanks to the weather. Also in the Orlando area, theme parks closed water attractions due to cold weather.

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6:45 a.m.

Law enforcement agencies are reporting freezing rain and ice on bridges in south Georgia as a winter storm revs up along the East Coast.

Police in the south Georgia city of Brunswick reported on their official Twitter account Wednesday morning that some area bridges had begun to ice up. Brunswick police added that there have already been crashes and they are advising motorists to stay off the roads.

The winter storm is threatening to dump snow and ice on parts of the U.S. South that rarely see frozen flurries, much less accumulation.

The National Weather Service said a wintry mix of snow and freezing rain was expected Wednesday mostly along the Southeast’s Atlantic coast. Up to an inch (2.5 centimeters) of snow could fall in Tallahassee, Florida, while 3 to 5 inches (8 to 13 centimeters) are possible in parts of North Carolina.

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6:30 a.m.

Weather warnings forced some school districts in Florida’s northern counties to close just as students were set to return after a winter break. A massive front is bringing some of the coldest temperatures in years to parts of Florida.

In central Florida, the state’s largest theme parks announced that water attractions such as Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon, Universal Orlando’s Volcano Bay and SeaWorld’s Aquatica were closed Wednesday because of the cold snap.

The temperature early Wednesday in Orlando was 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celsius) and it was raining.

The mayor of Jacksonville in north Florida closed city offices to all but essential personnel on Wednesday, advising people to stay off the roads. In Tallahassee, school officials announced that classes would remain closed Wednesday.

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5:45 a.m.

The North Carolina Zoo is offering half-priced admission while a bitter cold wave sweeps the South, giving visitors a chance to see polar bears frolic in their kind of weather.

Zoo visitors, however, shouldn’t expect to see any lions, elephants or gorillas native to Africa on view. With the mercury dipping below freezing, animals more suited to warmer climes will remain in their behind-the-scenes quarters.

Local news outlets report the zoo in Asheboro is offering the special discount rates through Saturday.

Besides polar bears, Arctic foxes, elk and other cold-tolerant animals will be on display. And for humans wary of venturing outdoors in dangerously low temperatures, the zoo is promising heated habitat complexes and transportation to stay warm.

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3 a.m.

Brutal winter weather that’s brought subzero temperatures to parts of the U.S. is threatening to dump snow and ice across areas of the South that rarely see flurries, much less accumulation.

The National Weather Service said a wintry mix of snow and freezing rain was expected Wednesday mainly along the Atlantic seaboard from Florida to North Carolina. It warned that icy roads and low visibility could make driving treacherous across the region.

In Savannah, a coastal city that hasn’t seen measurable snowfall since February 2010, up to 2 inches (5 centimeters) of snow and sleet were forecast. As city officials filled dump trucks with sand to spread on major streets, Mayor Eddie DeLoach urged residents to stay home and keep off the roads.

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Associated Press reporters Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; Jeff Martin in Atlanta; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Gary Fineout in Tallahassee, Florida; Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Florida; and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida; contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

 

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