As Southern California shakes off the record-breaking cold snap that blew down from Canada last week, Santa Barbara farmers are happy to report their valuable and vulnerable citrus crop made it through five nights of subfreezing temperatures relatively unscathed.

A frozen fountain on Old Mill Road in Santa Barbara
Yvonne Bazinet

Other than some harm to strawberry plants in Santa Maria and a few other pockets of minor damage on the South Coast, there wasn’t the widespread kill-off many had worried about, said Guy Tingos with the county Agricultural Commissioner’s Office. A number of farmers were up all night multiple days in a row, he explained, monitoring their fields and keeping wind machines running to stave off frost. The circulation helps prevent cold, heavy air from settling on the plants and brings warm, lighter air down to their level, Tingos said.

Since citrus and avocado plants don’t naturally grow in places with frost, they were the most susceptible to damage, Tingos went on. Edibles that contain a lot of water — like lettuce — were also at risk as the H2O inside them can solidify into crystals and burst through cell walls. A lot of vegetables, though, can freeze in their fields but then be harvested as soon as they thaw out, Tingos said. Regardless, temperatures didn’t get as low as forecasted — they mainly stayed in the range of 30 degrees Fahrenheit instead of dipping to expected lower levels — so many of those potential problems were avoided.

Beyond this bit of relative non-news, meteorologist David Sweet with the National Weather Service confirmed that the Santa Barbara Airport logged a reading of 27 degrees on Monday. That breaks a 24-year-old record for January 14. The old record was 30 degrees, set in 1989. The normal minimum temperature for the site is 41 degrees, Sweet said, and the lowest reading came on December 22, 1990, when the air was a frigid 20 degrees.

Over the weekend, he went on, New Cuyama dropped down to 20 degrees, and up at Big Pine Mountain in the Los Padres Forest, temperatures were in the teens. A frost advisory is in place for Tuesday night, Sweet explained, but the coldest nights are behind us for now.


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