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Frozen fears: Farmers hope peach buds remain alive Tuesday morning

POSTED: April 5, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS /The Times

Drew Echols inspects peach blossoms at a Jaemor Farm orchard Monday afternoon. Behind Echols is one of six large fans 40 feet off the ground to help combat freezing temperatures.

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With acres of peach trees in bloom, a visit from Old Man Winter is about the last thing Drew Echols wanted Monday night.

"The main reason we’re concerned is how long it stays cold," Echols said. "Every forecast I’ve seen is calling for below freezing temperatures between four and eight hours."

The National Weather Service issued a freeze warning for areas from Macon to Tennessee. The forecast called for temperatures in the high 20s Monday night.

"If it’s 28 degrees for eight hours, it will damage the crop," Echols said. "We lost a few (blooms) last night."

Echols and a crew of workers spent Monday placing six huge fans to cover about 2,500 trees of the family-owned Jaemor Farm orchard near the Hall and Habersham county lines.

The wind machines attempt to draw down warmer air from about 40 feet above the ground.

"These things are pretty powerful, and they keep things churned up pretty good. Most of the neighbors think we’re under attack by helicopters," Echols said.

The news is not as bad for the mountain vineyards, where the grapes are largely in a dormant stage.

"I don’t think we’re terribly exposed at this point," said Steve Gibson of Habersham Winery. "I don’t anticipate a severe long-term freeze like last year, when it didn’t get above freezing for three or four days."

The freeze warning, according to meteorologist Mike Leary, is in effect from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. today. "The winds will only be light and variable," Leary said.

He said the weather was being driven by cold air from the north accompanying a high pressure system moving through the state. Monday night was expected to be the coldest night of the week.

The forecast calls for highs today in the 60s, with lows tonight in the mid-30s. By Wednesday, temperatures should reach the 70s.

A freeze this time of year is not unusual. According to the National Weather Service, the last freeze of 2007 occurred on April 10 and on March 27 in 2006. Farther north in Blairsville, the last freeze of 2007 took place on May 19. In 2006, it was on April 10.



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