TAMPA, Fla. — Florida grower-shippers are preparing for an early season freeze that could drop temperatures below freezing for consecutive nights in central south Florida growing areas.

Hard freeze predicted to hit central and south Florida

The National Weather Service is predicting a “widespread and damaging freeze” to hit during the evenings of Dec. 6-7 in central Florida, with temperatures expected to fall to the upper 20s and low 30s for several hours over a wide area of the state, including the Plant City, Lakeland and Winter Haven berry and citrus growing areas.

In south Florida, the weather service forecasts similar temperatures for the Belle Glade, Pahokee, Clewiston and Immokalee vegetable growing region, where temperatures are predicted to remain below freezing for two to four hours during the overnight hours of Dec. 6-7 and Dec. 7-8.

Larry Scarborough, a salesman with BBI Produce Inc., Dover, said strawberry growers are planning to run irrigation water throughout the nights of Dec. 6 and Dec. 7.

“It’s early in the deal,” he said Dec. 6. “If we get through this for the next few days, should be all right.”

The weather service warns the subfreezing temperatures are imminent or highly likely and could kill crops and other sensitive vegetation.

Most of the inland areas in the southern half of the Florida peninsula fall under the warnings.