(Jan. 29) TAMPA, Fla. — Central Florida strawberry grower-shippers are preparing for an overnight freeze that could damage their crops.

The National Weather Service office in Ruskin has issued a freeze warning in effect from 3 a.m. to 9 a.m. EST Jan. 30. Forecasters say temperatures are expected to drop below freezing a few hours after midnight and then bottom out in the upper 20s to around 30 degrees for interior parts of eastern Hillsborough and western Polk counties before sunrise Jan. 30.

Most of Florida’s commercial strawberries are grown in eastern Hillsborough County near Plant City.

Temperatures could fall to between 27 and 32 degrees, and some areas could receive up to six hours of below-freezing temperatures, the weather service said.

Tommy Brock, president of the Dover-based Florida Strawberry Growers Association, said growers are preparing their fields for four to six hours of below-freezing temperatures.

When temperatures hit 38 degrees with calm winds, growers face a threat of frost and then consider spraying their fields with water. The water builds a layer of ice over the top of plants and holds ambient temperatures to a constant 32, preventing fruit or bloom damage.

“Everything looks good now as far as the weather reports,” Brock said Jan. 29. “If we don’t have the wind, we have come through a lot worse than this and have done all right.”

Cloud cover moving into the growing region from the Gulf of Mexico is also expected to serve as a blanket and keep ground heat from dissipating into the atmosphere and keep the plants warm, Brock said.

Few other Plant City-area melons or vegetables crops have been planted, Brock said. Growers begin planting such crops by mid-February, he said.