|Eulalia Pedro covered cold-sensitive subtropical plants with frost cloth at a nursery in Loxahatchee, Fla. (The Palm Beach Post via AP)|
COLUMBIA, S.C. - Severe cold settled in across the eastern half of the country yesterday, threatening crops, closing schools, and making Charleston feel more like New York City.
Farmers in Florida scrambled to save strawberries and tomatoes.
The deep freeze will last for at least the rest of the week. The National Weather Service said the mercury could fall below zero in St. Louis later this week for the first time since 1999.
So-called lake effect snow blanketed parts of the upstate New York with more than 3 feet. The weather caused delays and cancellations in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and the North Carolina mountains. Homeless shelters, especially in the Southeast, braced for a crush of people and said they would not turn anyone away.
Parts of central Florida could have lows below freezing nearly every day this week. Even Key West isn’t immune. Temperatures there the next couple of days are expected to barely creep above 60 degrees with a stiff north wind - nowhere near average highs in the 70s that draw winter tourists.
In Polk County - between Tampa and Orlando - temperatures were in the high 20s and strawberry farmers turned on sprinklers to create an insulation of ice for the berries.
The duration of the cold snap is unusual, especially in the South.