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Global warming

Radical weather patterns devastate California crops, endanger residents with rare freeze

Tuesday, January 16, 2007 by: Ben Kage
Tags: global warming, climate change, food supply


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(NewsTarget) Millions of dollars worth of California crops were devastated Friday when an arctic cold snap hit the state, even in areas where such weather is rare, such as Montclair and Chino.

A freeze watch was issued by the National Weather Service for the Santa Monica mountains and the San Fernando, San Gabriel and Santa Clarita valleys, where residents were told to keep both pets and plants indoors. The record low temperatures spurred Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a state of emergency and make facilities such as National Guard armories and fairgrounds open as emergency centers and homeless shelters.

Also in jeopardy from the cold snap are California's fruit and vegetable crops. Farmers in the Southland and the Central Valley are having a hard time protecting their crops from the cold, and Limoneira Co. Senior Vice President Alex Teague said their San Joaquin Valley lemon crops had been severely damaged. Twenty-five percent of its Porterville crop was gone, and more losses were expected. The final figure for damages could be in the millions, Teague said.

The California Farm Bureau Federation reported that citrus crops were in a particularly vulnerable position right now, as about $1 billion worth of lemons and naval oranges -- 70 percent and 75 percent of the state's crops for the fruits respectively -- are still on trees. However, non-citrus crops like strawberries, lettuce and artichokes are still endangered by the cold, officials said.

To combat the situation, many farmers are filling wind machines with propane and using artificial heat to warm their orchards. Some are even using old smudge pots -- oil burning pots that spew heat and smoke to fight frost in orchards, and were in use throughout the 1900s.

According to weather data collected by Kelly Redmond, regional climatologist for the Desert Research Institute in Reno, this cold spell is one of the most severe recorded in the last 57 years. Redmond said the severity was largely due to the fact that coastal winds and the ocean were unable to moderate the cold-air mass because it was so far inland.

Although the cold snap may be one of the most severe, it is not the first time California farmers have had to scramble to keep their crops warm. In 1963, farmers fought to save their crops from the cold temperatures that had blanketed most of the world; trees were damaged beyond repair by the cold in 1990, stunting crops for two subsequent seasons; and low temperatures cost farmers more than $700 million in crop loses in 1998.

An interesting point about the most recent record lows, said Jet Propulsion Laboratory meteorologist William Patzert, is that they come less than a week after Southern California observed record highs.

"We were talking global warming and heat waves with Santa Anas, and now we're talking about all those farmers maybe losing oranges and lettuce or whatever because of the cold," he said.

"This is an example of how climate change, and the radical weather effects it unleashes even during the winter, is going to directly affect the food supply," said environmentalist Mike Adams. "The immediate threat of climate change is not that rising oceans will sink cities, but that floods, freezes and droughts will devastate the food supply, leading to mass starvation and a population correction."

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