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Christmas Day Coldest Ever in Parts of U.S.

December 26, 1989|From Times Wire Services

Forecasters said Monday may have been the coldest Christmas ever in Florida as freezing temperatures destroyed an estimated 40% of citrus and vegetable crops and power outages delayed holiday dinners and other activities.

In Texas, temperatures headed into the 50s and 60s after a mass of arctic air had smashed low-temperature records and destroyed about 60% of the citrus crop there. Fruit growers fear that trees also may be damaged or lost, state agriculture officials said.

At Harlingen, Tex., citrus grower Joe Kutzenberger said no fruit that was not harvested before Friday and Saturday's cold can be salvaged.

It was the second straight day that Florida's $3.5-billion citrus industry was ravaged by cold. Wind was light Christmas Eve, meaning groves that escaped unharmed the previous night suffered freeze damage. Stiffer wind prevents frost from settling on the fruit.

"Apparently there is a lot of iced fruit," said Dick Whalley, a spokesman for Florida Citrus Mutual, the state's big grower cooperative.

More snow fell on the Deep South, and Florida utilities asked people to turn off holiday decorations to save electricity for heat.

Florida Power & Light imposed rolling blackouts of up to 30 minutes in length and braced for a possible increase in demand with the opening of many businesses today. "The records only go back to '42, and this was the coldest Christmas since 1942," said meteorologist Noel Risnychok of the National Weather Service.

On the resort island of St. Simons along the south Georgia coast, residents reveled in the rare snow, cross-country skiing on beaches and body surfing on Boogie boards in snow-covered parking lots.

Many homes in Charleston, S.C., were without water Monday because of a water main break.

The temperature fell to a record low of zero at the Wilmington, N.C., airport, where a record 15 inches of snow fell Sunday. The previous record low at Wilmington of 5 above had stood since February, 1899.

Two of North Carolina's three main natural gas companies asked consumers to turn down their heat Monday to ease demand on tight supplies.

Other record daily lows Monday, all in Florida, were 29 at Ft. Lauderdale, 46 at Key West and a record-tying 33 at Miami Beach, the National Weather Service reported.

The East and Midwest received a welcome gift from Mother Nature early Monday as a stubborn cold spell loosened its deadly grip.

Although much of the Midwest enjoyed a white Christmas, temperatures in some areas climbed into the 40s and 50s, well above the record chills of last week.

In New England, a massive arctic high-pressure system responsible for record low temperatures slowly weakened, but temperatures remained bitterly cold.

Elsewhere, the cold prevented the annual re-enactment of George Washington's famous Revolutionary War crossing of the Delaware River to capture British troops at Trenton, N.J. "We couldn't get our four boats into the river because it was a sheet of ice," said James Gallagher, who has played the role of Washington since 1985.

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