Coldest five-day streak in over 22 years
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) _ Residents in Arizona and bundled up for another day Wednesday as a record cold spell that hit much of the West began drawing to a close, taking a toll on water pipes and lettuce crops and testing people's patience in warm-weather cities like Phoenix.
Phoenix has had four straight nights of below-freezing temperatures, and Flagstaff in northern Arizona was nearing the end of its coldest five-day streak in more than 22 years. New Mexico cities including Farmington, Chama and Las Vegas all broke records for low temperatures Tuesday morning.
Weather forecasters said the temperatures gradually will warm up this week and should eliminate the possibility of more record low temperatures any time soon.
``The biggest thing with temperatures like this, people like it as long as we get the snow,'' said Jason Frazier, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, N.M. ``Unfortunately, we haven't gotten the snow. People are getting fed up with it and ready to get back to normal temperatures and try to warm up a little bit.''
Temperatures were well below freezing Tuesday morning in some New Mexico cities, such as Angel Fire, which hit minus 30 degrees, and Eagles Nest, which was 24 below zero. However, those temperatures aren't the coldest those communities have seen on the same date.
The last time Flagstaff had temperatures colder than they've been over the past five days was in late December 1990. This time around, the high was about 25 degrees over five days, and the low was negative 9 degrees.
The much lower-lying Phoenix area was under a freeze warning until Wednesday morning, with a hard freeze warning in effect for Kingman, Tucson and other parts of southeastern Arizona.
Lettuce growers in southwestern Arizona who had been rejoicing in an abundance of leafy greens last year as they saw temperatures above the seasonal normal now are facing shortages because of persisting cold weather that has reduced the quality of the crops and put less lettuce out on the market.
More than 90 percent of the lettuce produced in the United States comes from California and Arizona, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center at Iowa State University. Yuma, in the southwestern corner of Arizona near the California state line, alone grows 45,000 acres of head lettuce, 50,000 acres of romaine and 30,000 acres of leaf lettuce from November to March.
When the soil temperature dips below 55 degrees, the lettuce stops growing, said Victor Smith of JV Smith Companies, which farms 15,000 acres of vegetables in Yuma and Mexico. Overnight temperatures this week have dipped into the 20s around Yuma and lettuce farmers can't protect their crops. Workers harvesting the crops have had to peel off leaves of lettuce that have turned brown before selling it and give extra time for the sun to melt ice crystals forming on the leaves.
``It's creating a lot of extra work and strain,'' Smith said. ``Right now supplies are very tight and the market is very uncertain.''
Kurt Nolte, a Yuma-based agricultural agent for the University of Arizona, said that translates into higher prices for the consumer. He recently strolled through a grocery store and saw the price for a head of iceberg lettuce doubled at $2. Cartons of lettuce during the warm spell were selling for $8 but now are as high as $30 on the spot market, he said.
``We are going to be suffering from a shortage of some vegetables for about three weeks because of the production gap we started to see at the first part of the year,'' he said. ``There's limited supplies of lettuce available, the quality is bad because of the freeze.''
Yuma was expecting temperatures above freezing Tuesday and to hit the low 70s by the end of the week.
Until warmer temperatures return, residents in New Mexico and Arizona are being urged to bring in pets and plants, and to cover pipes to keep them from freezing.
Flagstaff residents have reported their homes being flooded because of water breaks over the past week, with damage to property, clothing and furniture, said Flagstaff Fire Department spokesman Mark Johnson. He expected more calls as the week warms up and pipes begin to thaw.
The Window Rock School District on the Navajo Nation canceled classes Tuesday because of the freezing temperatures and problems heating the schools. School districts in New Mexico from Albuquerque west to Gallup and north to Las Vegas were on two-hour delays.
Some public facilities in New Mexico, including the Bernalillo Metropolitan Court and Rio Rancho's municipal government offices, opened later than usual Tuesday.