Cold still threatens Calif. crops but it’s easing |

Cold still threatens Calif. crops but it’s easing

Icicles develop along a brick wall and on bushes as water from the sprinkler system freezes at a home on the corner of Willow Street and Peach Avenue in Hesperia, Calif, on Monday, Jan. 14, 2012. The extreme chill in the West comes as the eastern U.S., from Atlanta to New York City, is seeing spring-like weather. (AP Photo/The Victor Valley Daily Press, David Pardo)
AP | Daily Press

FRESNO — A cold snap that has California farmers struggling to protect a $1.5 billion citrus crop has slowly started to ease, though frigid temperatures were still the norm Tuesday morning throughout the state and across other parts of the West.

For a fifth night, temperatures in San Joaquin Valley, California’s agricultural heart, dipped as low as 21 degrees.

“It was still a critical night” even though the temperatures were a degree or two warmer than previously, said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, an association representing 2,200 growers who have roughly 65 percent of the state’s citrus acreage.

Growers needed wind machines and irrigation to offset the cold, mainly with success. However, damage was predicted to the mandarin crop, a growing segment of the industry.

“We still think the navel oranges have come through in good shape,” Blakely said.

Protection didn’t come cheap.

Lindsey-based Robert LoBue — who grows 1,000 acres of citrus, including mandarins — said he runs one wind machine for every 10 acres and has to employ a crew to operate them.

“We’re very diligent, we run the wind and water all night,” LoBue said, “but we’re spending thousands of dollars to protect these crops.”

In urban centers, it was 39 degrees in downtown Los Angeles early Tuesday, while San Francisco had 37 and San Diego, 36.

The National Weather Service predicted another night of frosty weather, but forecasters said temperatures would begin to warm gradually as the week progressed. High pressure was building and temperatures could hit 70 again in Southern California by Thursday, forecasters said.

Some Lake Tahoe casinos on the California-Nevada border are cleaning up after below-zero temperatures caused major water damage.

Pipes burst at Harrah’s casino and sent thousands of gallons into the main, 18-story tower and a high-roller gambling area, said Tahoe-Douglas Fire Marshal Eric Geuvin. Flooding temporarily disabled the elevators.

Two sprinkler heads broke at Harvey’s casino, and another broken pipe sent water into the loading dock at the Horizon casino. At the MontBleu, an antifreeze system meant to prevent pipe breakage froze, he said.

In New Mexico, some public facilities were opening later than usual Tuesday because of winter weather conditions that include freezing temperatures and poor driving conditions. School districts from Albuquerque west to Gallup and north to the town of Las Vegas were also on two-hour delays Tuesday morning.

The cold already has damaged enough of the southwestern Arizona lettuce crop to impact prices, one agriculture official said.

The Yuma, Ariz., area provides much of the nation’s leafy greens during the winter, and farmers are reporting damage to many romaine and iceberg lettuce crops. The cold is freezing the heads of the lettuce and affecting the quality and yield, said Kurt Nolte, a Yuma-based agricultural agent for the University of Arizona.

The price for a carton of lettuce in Yuma two weeks ago was $7 to $8. As of Monday, it cost around $20 per carton, he said.

“That’s a result of cold weather in the Yuma area for the last six weeks,” Nolte said.

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