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Record cold damages fruit crop in the Midwest, tulips in West Virginia

April 10, 1997

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) _ Roger Monnin burned 300 gallons of diesel fuel to try to warm up the apples, strawberries and raspberries on his 35-acre farm. He ran water over the strawberries and encased them in three inches of ice.

``I don’t think I’d have anything left if I hadn’t done that,″ he said Wednesday as temperatures dipped to 19, one degree lower than the record for the date in 1957.

Fruit farmers, mostly across the Midwest, were taking drastic and innovative measures to save their crops from the unseasonably cold temperatures. In parts of West Virginia today, flowering tulips were curled up like question marks asking why they met an early doom.

Record lows were felt across much of the northern half of the nation today, with Minot, N.D., dipping to minus 5 degrees. Muskegon, Mich., broke a 37-year-old record when temperatures fell to 14 degrees; Dickinson, N.D., plunged to 9; Miles City, Mont., reached 12; Pittsburgh chilled at 18; and at Snowshoe and Davis, W.Va., it was 8 degrees.

In Ohio alone, record lows were reported this morning in Cleveland (20), Akron (18), Youngstown (17) and Columbus (20). Dayton’s low today was 23.

Ohio fruit farmers sell about $25 million worth of apples each year and $4 million apiece in strawberries and peaches. The April cold snap has generated a sometimes fruitless effort to protect the crops.

Peace Valley Orchards in Rogers was using giant wind machines to blow warmer air over the peach, apple, plum and cherry trees. Farmer Dan Simmons said it’s too early to assess damage because blooms are frozen.

Monnin Fruit Farm estimates it lost 50 percent to 70 percent of the peach crop. ``This is the worst I’ve ever seen,″ Monnin said.

Bob MacQueen, owner of the 250-acre MacQueen’s Orchard in Toledo, said up to 90 percent of his large apple blooms were lost.

``We’re not out of business, but we’re injured,″ he said.

Otho Lewis, owner of Lewis Bros. orchards in West Virginia’s eastern panhandle, said crops were damaged because the cold weather followed several weeks of temperatures in the 60s and 70s that caused peach trees to bloom early.

Many residents remembered to cover their tender vegetation with everything from blankets to buckets to cheesecloth, but that did not guarantee survival in frigid conditions.

``Some of mine (tulips) were kind of crunchy this morning,″ said Sue Bell, a member of the Shadowlawn Garden Club in Charleston, where the mercury plunged to a record 21 today.

Jefferson Orchards in Kearneysville won’t know the extent of the damage from the freeze until the weather warms up this afternoon.

``Based on how low the temperatures were,″ said general manager Ron Slonaker, ``I figure we had a 90 percent kill with the peach orchards.″

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