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January 14, 2013

Bitter cold grips California

FRESNO, Calif. — As an unusual cold gripped the West Coast for the fifth day, some California citrus growers began to see damage on Monday while strong winds added to the misery of bundled-up city residents.

The extreme chill in the West comes as the Eastern U.S., from Atlanta to New York City, is seeing spring-like weather.

In the San Joaquin Valley, where farmers are fighting to protect about $1.5 billion worth of citrus fruit on their trees, Sunday temperatures dropped to 25 degrees in some areas and stayed low longer than previous nights.

Prolonged temperatures in the mid-20's or below cause damage to citrus crops.

"It was our coldest night to date," said Paul Story of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, an association of the state's 3,900 citrus growers. "I think mandarin growers are going to see a range of significant damage, enough that they will have to separate their crops."

Mandarins are more susceptible to cold than other citrus and start to freeze at about 32 degrees, Story said. Because many mandarin groves were planted in recent years as their popularity soared, they are grown in colder areas outside the traditional citrus belt — areas that saw some of the lowest temperatures overnight.

Other citrus crops saw little or minimal damage, Story said. This year's high sugar content in oranges helped protect the crops, he said, because sugar inhibits freezing and makes the fruit less susceptible to damage.

Throughout the valley, growers deployed wind machines to keep the warm air closer to the ground and irrigation to raise the temperature in the groves. But rows farthest away from the protection could be damaged, Story said. And farmers who do not have wind machines could lose crops.

Lindsey-based Robert LoBlue, who grows 1,000 acres of citrus, including mandarins, said wind machines were critical in his groves — but saving the crop doesn't come cheap. LoBlue runs one wind machine for every 10 acres and has to employ a crew to man them.

"We're very diligent, we run the wind and water all night," LoBlue said, "but we're spending thousands of dollars to protect these crops."

And farmers are on the hook for a fifth cold night: a freeze warning remains in effect until 10 a.m. Tuesday for central California.

In Southern California, strong winds helped to keep crops out of danger by keeping the cold from settling.

Temperatures in downtown Los Angeles plummeted to 34 degrees, breaking the previous record of 36 degrees set on Jan. 14, 2007.

Winds gusted to 41 mph in Riverside and Leo Carrillo State Beach west of Malibu, while 40 mph gusts kicked up dust and sand in the Blythe southeast desert area near the Arizona border.

Gusts reached 30 mph in Camarillo while Santa Ana and Van Nuys reported gusts to 26 mph.

Elsewhere Monday, it was 13 degrees in high desert Lancaster; 27 in Temecula; 29 in Claremont; 33 in Redondo Beach and Sacramento; 34 in Palm Springs; 36 in Van Nuys; and 40 in San Francisco.

In Angeles National Forest, where overnight temperatures have been dropping into the 20s, Arcadia hiker Danny Kim, 28, was found Sunday night after surviving 26 hours in the frigid West Fork wilderness. Kim was airlifted to a hospital for treatment of hypothermia.

The body of a homeless man was found just before dawn Monday on a Los Angeles Skid Row sidewalk, but it was unclear if the death was caused by the record cold. City News Service said the name of the man, who appeared to be in his late 50s, wasn't released.

In Beverly Hills, fans brought heavy coats and scarves as they waited along the red carpet hoping to catch glimpses of stars arriving for the Golden Globes ceremony Sunday evening. Some of the actors shivered but weren't complaining.

"I'd rather be nippy than boiling hot," said actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who arrived in a strapless dress. "No, I'm not wearing any leggings or long underwear."

In San Diego, zookeepers offered extra heat and shelter for some animals.

The cold air was flowing east into neighboring Arizona, where metropolitan Phoenix was marking one of its coldest stretches in years. Temperatures over the weekend dipped to 30 degrees at Sky Harbor International Airport and fell well below zero in mountainous Flagstaff.

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