WATSONVILLE -- The freeze that has chilled California for the past five days is coming to an end.
The mercury will rise gradually this week, and bring balmy weather to Santa Cruz County by Friday, according to the forecast from the National Weather Service in Monterey.
That's good news for growers, who have been putting in extra hours and extra dollars into PG&E's pocket trying to protect plants from damage in the face of freezing temperatures.
"Hallelujah! I'm praying for not having any more," said Dave Cavanaugh of Cavanaugh Color in Watsonville.
Cavanaugh has been fighting the cold at his nursery for the past few nights, covering outside plants with special cloth at night and cranking up propane heaters in greenhouses. Monday morning the temperature fell to 27 degrees, but the frost cloth protects plants until the mercury drops under 24. So far, he's seen little damage.
"Nothing serious yet, just a lot of extra work," Cavanaugh said.
Berries, the county's main crop, aren't in production now and some chill actually improves plants, farmers say. But the county's few Meyer lemon and Hass avocado growers have been keeping a close eye on trees.
Jeff Larkey of Route 1 Farms said his lemons are doing OK, but if they were planted on the valley floor of a canyon north of Davenport instead of the warmer slopes, he might be in trouble. He's also been worried about the avocados he grows on Ocean Street Extension in
True, said forecaster Bob Benjamin at the National Weather Service. He predicted 32 as the low for Santa Cruz on Tuesday, climbing to 35 on Wednesday and 40 on Thursday. Highs gradually will rise from the low to mid-50s to the low 70s by Friday.
"The sun is going to be shining, and nothing but designer high clouds," he predicted. No rain is forecasted for at least a week.
Benjamin expects the warming trend to be "widespread" in California so Cavanaugh won't be the only one rejoicing. The weather has put a chill on agriculture throughout the state for the past five days.
In the Salinas Valley, Specialized Helicopters, which is based at Watsonville Municipal Airport was flying day and night Sunday to help keep lemon orchards warm.
In the San Joaquin Valley, temperatures plunged to 25 degrees in some areas Sunday, putting an estimated $1.5 billion worth of citrus crops at risk. Growers deployed wind machines and irrigated to raise temperatures in groves.
Lindsey-based Robert LoBlue, who grows 1,000 acres of citrus, said wind machines were critical in his groves -- but saving the crop doesn't come cheap.
"We're very diligent. We run the wind and water all night, but we're spending thousands of dollars to protect these crops," LoBlue said.
Dick Peixoto, whose Lakeside Organic Gardens is based in the Pajaro Valley, has shifted most of his winter production to the Imperial Valley, where temperatures in the upper 20s and lower 30s have caused "major damage." Knowing the chill was coming, he harvested much of his crops in advance, and has tried to protect the rest with plastic covers and irrigation.
"It's pretty bad," he said. "It's hard telling how much damage yet because it's still happening."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Follow Sentinel reporter Donna Jones on Twitter at Twitter.com/DonnaJonesSCS
At a glance
TUESDAY: 32, 57, sunny
WEDNESDAY: 35, 60, sunny
THURSDAY: 40, 67, sunny
FRIDAY: 46, 72, sunny
SATURDAY: 46, 72, sunny