Phoenix braces for another night of freezing cold

January 14, 2013

Cold has descended on an area of the country that's known for it's near-perfect weather this time of year. For days now, Southern California and Arizona have suffered through nights of sub-freezing temperatures. KJZZ's Peter O'Dowd reports.

homeless battle freezing temperaturesThe homeless battle freezing temperatures outside Central Arizona Shelter Services near downtown Phoenix. (Photo by Peter O'Dowd - KJZZ)

PETER O'DOWD: We Phoenicians know a thing or two about 40-degree winters. But it hasn't been cold like this for a long time.

TONI ESKELI: We've got a two-man tent. Then we've got five more sleeping bags and 10 blankets.

O'DOWD: Toni Eskeli is wrapped in a scarf and a peacoat near downtown Phoenix. She and her boyfriend huddle around a picnic table, rolling cigarettes, doing what they can to stay warm. Sunday morning greeted them and many other homeless people with below-freezing temperatures -- something they’re not used to in a city that's known for its heat.

ESKELI: It just makes it harder because you get up and it's cold and you have to break it down and you have to drag everything in the bushes. You're freezing. I don't know. I just think the heat is easier to deal with.

DOUGLAS BACHMAN: Freezing cold. It’s like cold being in Michigan, without the snow.

Douglas BachmanDouglas Bachman, who is homeless, moved into a Phoenix shelter over the weekend after losing his sleeping bag. (Photo by Peter O'Dowd - KJZZ)

O'DOWD: Douglas Bachman gave up after his sleeping bag was stolen. This weekend he got a spot at a men's overflow shelter, where administrators have set up an extra 50 to 75 beds. But Central Arizona Shelter Services' Irene Agustin  says the shelter is short on socks and jackets.

IRENE AGUSTIN: In the summertime, we're a little more prepared because we know it's 10,15 days of excessive heat warnings. But this is kind of throwing us a curve ball because we're not used to having consecutive days of cold.

O'DOWD: Augustin says adding more beds for several days will stretch the shelter's $3 million annual budget.

HECTOR VASQUEZ: I want it to warm up.

O'DOWD: National Weather Service Meteorologist Hector Vasquez says cold air from Canada is stuck over Arizona and parts of California. He says that air won't be going anywhere until Wednesday, which means Phoenix is flirting with a streak it hasn’t seen in 35 years.  

VASQUEZ: That goes back to 1978 when we had four days under 32 degrees.

O'DOWD: That may not sound like much for all you thick-skinned folks from Minnesota or Maine. But consider this: Arizona and Southern California produce more than 90 percent of the country's winter lettuce. An extension agent in Yuma, Arizona, says the freeze will affect the quality and size of this year's crop. The price of Yuma-grown lettuce has tripled since Thanksgiving and this cold snap could send it higher.

Citrus frost damageJames Truman inspects a grapefruit tree for frost damage on his 21-acre citrus farm northwest of Phoenix.
(Photo by Peter O'Dowd - KJZZ)

JAMES TRUMAN: Bubbling and gurgling in the background is air coming out of the subterranean pipe.

O'DOWD: The freeze could also wipe out James Truman's citrus farm on the outskirts of Phoenix. Truman is unleashing 500 gallons of water a minute onto his mandarin orange trees. He says this steady stream of relatively warm water should be enough to stop the fruit from freezing overnight.

TRUMAN: It might boost the temperature 3 to 5 degrees, we hope.

O'DOWD: So far, he's been lucky. A few of his trees are suffering with limp leaves. But when he cuts the top off an orange, the flesh shows no sign of frost. He'll stay up all night, and late into the morning adjusting irrigation valves.

TRUMAN: You grow these things all year. You irrigate, fertilize do other maintenance expenses. You have land taxes, insurance, all those costs go into your crop, and if your crop freezes and you can't harvest it and it's no good, you have no income.

O'DOWD: All told, a bad freeze could cost Truman up to $80,000.