Alex Palmer's Natural History Notes and Thoughts

Thoughts and reflections on various social and environmental issues, as well as naturalist observations from the great outdoors.

palm trees in snow; a wise word for the southeast USA

Well, it doesn’t look like I’m going to be getting many oranges this year.  And since orange juice is going to cost many dollars per many gallons, I might as well drink prune juice at breakfast for a while.

Florida these past few winters as seen some chilly winters.  This past December alone saw below freezing temperatures slide all the way down to the southern tip of the Florida peninsula.  Although Key West stayed well above freezing, they saw record low temperatures close to 40 degrees F.  In Norfolk, Virginia, a normally snow free area, saw at least a few feet of snow cover the ground.  In Washington, D.C., the Potomac River froze solid.

The Southeast United States is certainly known for its hot and humid weather, and the image of a palm-lined beach with tanners and body surfers is a well-known sight in this region of the world.  So what, then, explains this unusually cold weather in such a tropical paradise?

The answer:  look at a globe.  Find where the equator is.  Now, find where the tropic of cancer is.  On the Northern Hemisphere, the area between the tropic of cancer and the equator are considered the tropics.

Now look at where Florida and all of the other Southeast States are.  They are not even close to the equator!  Nor are they really all that close to the tropic of cancer.

The southeast is a subtropical climate.  These climates stay warm most of the year, but because of their northern latitude, they are not tropical. This brings me to give out several tips to southeasterners.

  • Diversify agriculture.  North of Orlando, Florida is much to close to the arctic-blasted interior states to safely grow citric fruits.  Citrus fruits are native to Mediterranean coastal areas, where below freezing temperatures almost never occur.  Northern Florida almost always sees at least one hard freeze in the winter.
  • Where a coat.  All of the planted palm trees might make you think of the Sunshine State as a tropical paradise…but don’t let them fool you.  Temperatures in the low 30s, with wind chill even lower, occurs regularly in Northern Florida during the winter, and less often in the southern part of the state.
  • Avoid using sprinklers in the colder winter months.
  • Plant native plants in landscaped areas.  Florida has a large variety of native plants well suited to both the excessive heat and the cool winters.  Among these native plants include the Sabal palmettos, one of the few groups of palms that can grow in more northern humid climates.

Be prepared for inclement weather anywhere you go.  And become knowledgeable about the climate in regards to  the sensitiveness of plants, crops,  and yourselves.


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