Old Jackie Frost

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Everyone has been touched by the dramatic weather this past month and some got clobbered. A watery deluge that thankfully began filling California’s cisterns also brought waves of mud and coast-thrashing surf. The Mid-Atlantic is digging out from a blizzard that was advertised to be the-storm-to-end-all-storms, however another Eastern front is on its way. On every channel, weather personalities are frantically flailing laser pointers. This is after all the good, the bad, and the ugly of an  El Nino year. Nonetheless the devastating frost that threatened Florida’s $9.3 billion citrus industry last month had a separate tormentor to blame for their losses—the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). Vikings described aspects of the NAO, which is the east to west oscillations in atmospheric pressure between the Icelandic Low and the Azores High. The NAO forms western winds and Atlantic storms and this year it sprayed a wicked freeze ray on Florida.

North Atlantic OscillationMeteorologists and weather watchers model  global weather patterns, the synergy of cosmic influences like solar flares and eclipses, and even maps of human influences such as land use and the Ozone Hole. Dennis Klocek, noted lecturer on the cosmos and climates, who hosts  Docweather.com, a website that combines weather science and astronomy, writes that “The present eclipse pattern puts a strong blocking influence just off of the coast of the U.S. at mid latitudes and over the Maritime provinces southwest of Greenland at high latitudes. A ridge formation there causes the jet stream that moves from west to east across the continent to dive to the southeast as it crosses the high plains. That pattern is known as a Greenland Block." During that fateful Florida freeze, Miami was colder than Anchorage.

Forewarned is forearmed, but only to a degree. Farmers have tools to protect their crops like warm air from propane blowers and irrigation. But the frost in Florida was too long and too cold to use these methods and 90 out of 96 counties were declared an agricultural disaster area. Much of the crop loss was in vegetables; peppers and tomatoes were wiped out. The longer effect will be in the loss of blooms and strawberry seedlings—the spring crops. Many established citrus trees do recover, and there are hardy zones and microclimates throughout Florida that have endured. "We've been seeing good citrus coming out of Florida especially Marsh and Red Grapefruit," said Brandon Stolz, sales  manager for  Four Seasons Produce in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, referring to citrus from areas like the Indian River region that fared relatively well.

“California, we always get your weather,” summed up Ken Kaufmann of Kaufmann’s Orchard in Bird-in-Hand, PA. Weather fronts move across the nation from west to east, but so too can good fruit. A medley of Mandarin varieties is doing well in the Ojai and Fresno regions of California. "Right now the Florida Temple Oranges look and taste fantastic, and there's plenty of California citrus," says FruitGuys buyer Benn Roe with a sunshiny smile. If the old weather adage “a year of snow, a year of plenty” proves true, the east will also be in for some great produce after the big thaw.

- Heidi Lewis


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