(Feb. 4, 11:10 a.m.) BELLE GLADE, Fla. -- With a hard freeze warning bearing down on them, Florida grower-shippers are preparing for one of the coldest nights in years.

The National Weather Service has issued the warning for the evening of Feb. 4 for the south Florida growing regions of Belle Glade and Clewiston around Lake Okeechobee in Palm Beach and Hendry counties and Immokalee and Naples.

Strawberry and citrus growers in the central Florida growing region are also under the warning. The weather service says the freeze -- which could bring three hours or more of subfreezing temperatures -- can kill crops.

The record-breaking temperatures are forecast to drop into the mid-20s the evening of Feb. 4 throughout the state, with low-20s for the Plant City strawberry growing region.

The weather service warns temperatures in central and south Florida could fall into the 20s after midnight and remain at those levels throughout the evening.

For the evening of Feb. 5, forecasters say temperatures in the Plant City strawberry growing region could fall to the mid-20s with mid-30s forecast for Belle Glade and Immokalee-area vegetables.

In late January, a series of overnight freezes that had temperatures tumbling into the upper 20s caused extensive damage to south Florida's sweet corn and green beans.

Al Finch, vice president of sales and marketing for Diversified Citrus Marketing, Lake Hamilton, the marketing arm of the Dundee Citrus Growers Association, said growers are watching temperatures closely.

"What we have experienced so far is that we have seen minimal damage from the cold," he said. "If we can get through the cold, it helps color up the fruit more, which is a positive. We are really watching it this week."

Florida growers watching temperatures closely
Brian Arrigo, president of Southern Corporate Packers Inc., Immokalee, Fla., examines zucchini squash in a field north of Immokalee Feb. 4, just hours before a hard freeze is expected to hit south Florida growing regions. Growers plan to cover certain crops to prevent damage from temperatures that are expected to plummet into the mid-20s in the Everglades Agricultural Area around the Lake Okeechobee vegetable growing region.