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Freezing weather tightens icy grip
Weather threatens crops, pipes, pets, people
The coldest weather the Orange Belt has seen in six years does have a silver lining on the horizon, as above average temperatures are coming. But before the forecasted warm-up, the Valley will be faced with a weekend of temperatures dipping in to the upper-teens.
For the homeless living along the banks of the Tule River, the frigid temperatures of the last couple of days have been almost unbearable.
“This cold is bad, and if you don’t have another body to sleep with, it’s miserable,” said Judy Andrews, 62. “I have epilepsy and cancer. And, I’m the oldest female out here.”
Andrews’ home is a small two-man hut, pushed up against bamboo.
“I’m trying to insulate the tents by putting newspapers and cardboards on the insides of the tent. I also use a blanket on top of the tent and then a plastic over that,” Andrews said. “It helps a little — not so much in making it warmer but it does soak up the moisture and keeps the inside of the tent dry. But, I have to do it every day — remove the old papers. They cause mold and mildew, and it’s not healthy. I can’t afford to get sick.”
Not far away, John Lawry was busy cleaning around his tent.
“It’s pretty cold but we have a mattress, two comforters and a sleeping bag,” Lawry said. “What else can we do? The government pays millions on third-world countries but won’t help us.”
Lawry, Andrews and the other dozen individuals living on the river banks, will have a couple of options for staying warm during the weekend.
A warming center has been set up through the city of Porterville to keep the homeless from being subjected to freezing temperatures.
Porterville City’s Heritage Center, 256 E. Orange Ave., next to Santa Fe School, will be open from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday nights. Bedding is not provided.
The Porterville Rescue Mission has beds for seven individuals, but director Rudy Ramirez said he will never turn anyone away and if necessary, will use the dining room for additional space.
“I can’t let people struggle out there in the cold. At extreme times like these, I can’t turn anyone away. I’d rather save a life than send them away,” Ramirez said. “About six years ago, two lives were lost due to the cold here. Not on my watch. I’ll put myself on the line before I let something like that happen.”
The Rescue Mission’s gates open at 6 a.m. and close at 9 p.m., he said, and added that anyone wanting a bed may arrive at anytime through 9 p.m.
Individuals staying at the Heritage Center or elsewhere can arrive at 6 a.m. for hot coffee and are welcomed to stay for breakfast and through the day, he said.
“We’re productive. I’ll put them to work doing something. They’re not just here loafing around,” he said. “The other thing is most places don’t take couples but during severe weather, I do open it up to couples and families, if necessary.”
Local residents will continue to see cold temperatures plunge as the freeze warning for the central and southern areas of the San Joaquin Valley, including the Porterville area, remains in effect through 10 a.m. Monday.
Kevin Dupree, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford, reports the mean temperature for Porterville Thursday night was 28 degrees, but weekend temperatures were expected to hit 23 degrees Friday night, and 22 tonight and Sunday night, with some of the outlying areas seeing temperatures dipping into the upper teens — 17, 18 and 19 degrees — January temperatures that have not been seen since 2007.
“That was a Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. The temperatures were colder then but the pattern was similar,” Dupree said. “These [current temperatures] are extreme cold conditions, with temperatures reaching at or below freezing — 32 degrees — as early as 10 or 11 p.m. each night,” Dupree said. “The coldest will be from 2 to 9 a.m. each morning.”
Heavy showers, occasionally mixed with snow and hail, scattered the Valley Thursday, dropping snow flurries across the eastern borders, including parts of East Porterville and at River Island Golf Course. And, though the cold will remain, a dryer air mass has entered the area, Dupree said, taking away any possibility of any additional snow flurries for the weekend, and keeping away the possibility of fog.
Temperatures will continue to be cold through Tuesday morning, when they are expected to hit 29 degrees in the early morning hours, Dupree said, but will began to recover by midweek.
“There’s even a possibility that we’ll go above normal,” Dupree said. “Thursday and Friday will see low- to mid-60’s and that’s a good 4 to 7 degrees above normal this time of year. It’s a nice pay back but first we need to get through this ridiculous, cold weather.”
The weather is nothing to take lightly, he said, and people should take extra care to protect what he refers to as the three P’s — pipes, plants and pets.
For ranchers, the cold weather means turning on wind machines and running irrigation water, said Shirley Batchman, director of government affairs, California Citrus Mutual, a citrus producers trade association.
“Tonight and tomorrow, they are forecasting the coldest weather we have seen this season,” Batchman said. “But, we’ll have to wait and see what actually transpires. The wind machines will be on. They have blades that go up and down, with the concept that when they are on, they bring that warm air, and inversion layers, down. If you have a good inversion layer, it can make as much as three degrees difference.”
Inversion layers are layers of warm air hovering at 35 to 40 feet up in the atmosphere.
The irrigations warm the soil, she said, and gets additional warm air coming up from it.
“Tonight they are projecting a 25 foot inversion and they’re calling it weak to moderate,” Batchman said. “There’s always the possibility of a stronger inversion, or a cloud cover that helps warm the air.”
According to Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, the scattered cloud cover and light winds combined with the wind machine protection, elevated grove temperatures Thursday night to above critical points, mitigating the potential for frost damage.
Overall, temperatures were manageable for the mandarin and naval crops.
“In frost episodes, mandarins will typically sustain more damage than the more cold-tolerant navel, but last night’s cloud cover and the use of wind machines were enough to elevate temperatures above the 32-degree threshold, making damage unlikely,” Nelsen reported Friday. “Some growers did start running water yesterday in the late afternoon to warm up ground temperatures in preparation for the cold weather. But, many opted to hold off running water in anticipation for the colder nights to come. Wind machines started running anywhere from midnight to 2:30 a.m. in warmer areas and will continue through sunup this morning.”
Running the machines has a steep price, Batchman said, pointing out that it costs an approximate $30 an hour per machine, with the general ratio being one machine for every 10 acres.
To date, moderate winter temperatures have allowed the season’s crop to develop a high sugar content which will provide internal protection against frost damage, CCM reports.
As far as rain levels, Greg Chadwell, local weather observer reports Thursday night’s storm deposited 0.24 inches of rain, bringing the month’s total to 0.55 inches, pushing the season’s total to 3.13 inches.
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.