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Late-Season Chill Damages Fruit Trees; Snowfall Hits 2 Feet

April 24, 1986

Undated (AP) _ A cold snap lingered today from the Great Lakes to the Carolinas after temperatures plunged to record lows in 14 states, causing millions of dollars of damage to fruit crops and dropping up to 2 feet of snow as winter weather gave the East one last shiver.

The surprise snowfall reached as far south as Virginia, snarling traffic and closing schools in New York and New Jersey. The National Weather Service reported 31 low-temperature records set early today in the East and the Pacific Northwest.

The highest reported snowfall Wednesday was 24 inches in Eldred, N.Y., in the Catskill Mountains near the Pennsylvania border.

″It is wicked traveling,″ said Gene Hathaway of the National Weather Service at Newark (N.J.) International Airport, where two-thirds of an inch of snow fell, breaking the record of just a trace set in 1963 and 1984.

Record low temperatures Wednesday extended as far south as Miami, where the 57-degree readinf was 2 degrees lower than the 1970 record, and as far west as Lake Charles, La., where the 48 degrees was 2 degrees lower than a 1934 record.

Meanwhile, the 84-degree reading at Aberdeen, S.D., tied an 86-year-old record for the date and was 9 degrees warmer than the high at Key West, Fla.

For today, forecasters predicted warmer weather.

Tender fruit crops suffered widespread damage in Kentucky, Michigan, Indiana, West Virginia and Ohio. Most agriculture officials said damage could not be determined immediately, but Richard Funt of Ohio’s Cooperative Extension Service estimated Wednesday that the loss to his state’s apple and grape crops would total $20 million to $25 million.

″There are several growers in southern Ohio that are completely wiped out,″ said Blake Gerber, executive director of the Ohio Fruit Growers Association.

The temperature in Columbus, Ohio, early Wednesday hit 23, breaking a 30- year-old record low for the date by 6 degrees.

″I anticipate upwards of 90 percent grape damage,″ said grower Dwight Brown of Lawton in southwestern Michigan, where the state’s fruit industry is centered. ″We had some tart cherries in blossom and I assume it destroyed them. Sweet cherries also were in bloom and it appears they are gone, too.″

The temperature in Grand Rapids, Mich., dipped to 20 early Wednesday; the previous record for the date, 27, was set in 1956.

Fruit growers took various steps to keep the chill off crops that can be affected by just a few degrees’ difference. Agriculture officials scy 28- degree cold can damage 10 percent of the fruit on a tree, while 25 degrees can result in 90 percent damage.

″They’ll be using wind machines, helicopters, orchard heaters and a lot of prayers,″ said John Holtz, agriculture meteorologist at West Virginia University. ″Some might even use brush fires or burn old tires - anything to bring temperatures up a few degrees.″

In Ohio’s Licking County, Mitch Lynd said he hired four helicopters at $350 an hour each to push warm air down on his 50,000 apple trees on 530 acres.

Initial reports showed at least some crops apparently survived the chill.

″We got by all right,″ Leonard Sanson, manager of the Carolina Blueberry Cooperative in Burgaw, N.C., said this morning. ″I think the wind came up and there’s no frost and I think we were all right. Three or four more degrees could have been really bad.″

″The frost was erratic,″ said Pete Marziliano of the Rabun County, Ga., Extension Service. Heavy frost may have damaged early vegetables and peach trees, he said.

The unusual cold rode a jet stream from Canada dipping farther south than usual into a set of high-pressure systems centered early today over Ohio and the northern Gulf of Mexico, said Paul Fike of the National Severe Storms Forecast Center in Kansas City, Mo.

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