POSTED: Monday, January 4, 2010 - 12:45pm
UPDATED: Friday, April 13, 2012 - 9:53am

Cold, windy weather enveloping the U.S. from the northern Plains to the East Coast may continue to break temperature records today. In south Florida, orange growers may escape most crop damage.

The National Weather Service issued hard-freeze warnings for last night and this morning for southern Alabama and Georgia and the northern part of Florida, including the panhandle. Such warnings alert growers of temperatures that may fall below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (zero Celsius) for more than three consecutive hours.

A low of 20 degrees was forecast for Jacksonville, Florida, overnight, which would break the existing record of 22 degrees, said Dave Samuhel, a meteorologist for AccuWeather.com Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. Typical temperatures for Jacksonville this time of year are 42 degrees, he said.

In Florida, citrus-growers will likely avoid major crop damage since below-freezing temperatures wouldn’t last long enough, Samuhel said.

“I don’t expect widespread damage,” he said.

The next few weeks will be key to the outlook for agriculture, said Bobby Barden, president of the Sebring, Florida-based Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, in a telephone interview.

Next Weekend

A cold blast expected next weekend “is supposed to be stronger” than the current weather pattern, Jack Scoville, a Price Group Inc. vice president in Chicago, said in an e-mail yesterday.

Orange-juice futures on Dec. 31 fell the most in four months on speculation that the freezing weather forecast for this week for many parts of the U.S. won’t damage Florida’s citrus crop. Orange juice rose 90 percent last year on bets the harvest would decline in the state, the world’s second-largest orange grower.

The futures for March delivery tumbled 7.85 cents, or 5.7 percent, to $1.2905 a pound on ICE Futures U.S. in New York, the biggest drop for a most-active contract since Aug. 14. The price gained 51 percent since the end of 1999.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture last month estimated that Florida’s orange crop will be 0.7 percent smaller than earlier forecast because adverse weather reduced fruit size. Brazil is the world’s biggest orange producer.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Hart in Washington at dahart@bloomberg.net