Cold weather: winter is chilliest 'in many people's memory’

Cold weather across much of the East has orange growers pulling all-nighters in Florida, city workers in Atlanta scrambling to fix burst pipes, and the homeless struggling in Memphis.

By , Staff writer

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    Gert Chisholm, Linda Brockett, and Sandy Sotak walk the streets of Beachwood, Ohio, Tuesday. Forecasters say snow will continue to fall on parts of northeast Ohio that already have two feet or more on the ground.
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Remember those nasty 1970s winters?

Well, Americans are reliving those cold old days right now as cold weather threatens orange and strawberry growers in Florida, has social service crews working overtime in Tennessee, and fracturing old water mains in Atlanta.

Across the South, Midwest, and Eastern seaboard, a stubborn “arctic outbreak," tacked onto an already cold return to work for many Americans, augurs what meteorologist at AccuWeather.com are calling “the coldest winter in many people’s memory.”

“It’ll be like the great winters of the ‘60s and ‘70s,” says AccuWeather.com chief meteorologist and long range forecaster Joe Bastardi.

It’s not just the lows, which are around what the chilly winter of 2002 and 2003 brought. It’s the duration and some historic maximums, including a 17 degree F high in Bluefield, W.V., that are worrying farmers, closing schools, and forcing homeless shelter managers to work overtime and loosen rules to find bed space for those seeking shelter.

Impact on oil and gas prices

The impact is likely to be widespread. As part of a global cold spell, crude oil prices are inching up quickly as China, especially, is seeing its coldest and snowiest weather in decades. Natural gas futures also rose steadily as predictions of a chilly winter lifted demand expectations into warmer parts of the country.

Orange futures rallied on Monday in advance of a feared frost. Growers escaped widespread damage over the weekend, but a prolonged sub-freezing front is expected to hover over the state for several days starting Thursday.

It’s all part of a strange weather pattern, as this year’s winter struck first in the South, and then a pre-Christmas blizzard upset mall shopping, all giving way to a spell of cold and snow that included a record 33-inch weekend snow fall in Burlington, Vt.

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While the temperatures in many parts of the country haven’t been this low since 1982 and 1985, the long-lasting cold and promise of repeated snow events means this winter is shaping up to be like the one that hit the US in the winter of 1977-1978, says Mr. Bastardi at Accuweather.com.

Nearly all of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains saw a cold October, a warmer November and returning cold in December. What followed in 1978 is what weather watchers expect to happen this year: Far below normal temperatures lasting until March.

Residents of Miami donned heavy coats and wool mufflers Monday to face down the coldest weather to hit the usually balmy city in decades, reported the Associated Press.

An already saturated ground layer, ice cold river water coming into the system, and old pipes have meant dozens of water main pipes are breaking in and around metro Atlanta, with public works crews frantically patching pipes.

Department of Public Works supervisor Tommy Jenkins told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday morning that the situation “right now [is] more than we can handle.”

Concern is growing in both cities and rural areas for those stuck outside or in cold houses.

Memphis, Tenn., authorities reported three casualties due to the freezing temperatures, including one man who died inside a house. In Nacogdoches, Texas, emergency officials urged residents to check the antifreeze levels in their cars and to make arrangements for pets and livestock. They noted that mobile homes are especially prone to burst pipes.

'Cold weather wimp'

Jennifer New, the south Georgia correspondent for the Examiner, marveled at the finger-freezing temps.

“I am now, officially, geographically misplaced without a cause," she wrote. "I live in south Georgia because I am a cold weather wimp. After years of harsh Boston weather ... I was eager to get to a place where that doesn’t happen, so I settled in south Georgia. Boy, was I misled!”

After heavy snow fell across the Midwest and Northeast, St. Joseph, Mo., saw a minus-16 degree reading Monday, the coldest day in that city since 1947. Dallas, Little Rock, and Jacksonville all saw temperatures 20 degrees F below normal.

Awaiting the next blast of Arctic air expected to arrive Thursday, Florida orange growers are tending their groves around the clock, checking thermometers and spraying their trees with mist to create insulating cloaks of ice around the tree trunks. So far, growers have taken no losses, but processors are working around the clock as farmers bring in ripe fruit ahead of this weekend’s expected freeze.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to get out of this, but Mother Nature speaks,” says Ron Hamel, general manager of the Gulf Citrus Growers Association in LaBelle, Fla.

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