AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
2012 may have been the hottest year on record for the Lower 48 States, but don't tell that to the people of Phoenix. For several nights in a row now, Arizona and Southern California both have suffered through rare sub-freezing temperatures.
From member station KJZZ in Phoenix, Peter O'Dowd reports.
PETER O'DOWD, BYLINE: We Phoenixians 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 and we've got, like, five more sleeping bags and about 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 got to drag everything in the bush. And it's just - you're freezing. The heat at least - I don't know, I just think the heat is easier to deal with.
DOUGLAS BACHMAN: Freezing cold. I mean, it's like cold being in Michigan without the snow.
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 AUSTIN: In the summertime, we're a little bit more prepared. But, yeah, this is kind of throwing us a curve ball because we're not used to having consecutive days of cold.
O'DOWD: Agustin 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 go 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 based 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.
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JAMES TRUMAN: Bubbling and gurgling in the background is air coming out of the subterranean pipes.
(SOUNDBITE OF WATER)
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 three to five 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 like this one.
(SOUNDBITE OF A VALVE)
TRUMAN: You grow these things all year. You irrigate, fertilize, do other maintenance expenses. You have land taxes, insurance, and all those costs go into your crop. And if your crop freezes and you can't harvest it, it's no good, you have no income.
O'DOWD: All told, a bad freeze could cost Truman $80,000. For NPR News, I'm Peter O'Dowd in Phoenix.
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