Published: Dec 14, 2010 4:27 AM EST
Updated: Dec 14, 2010 1:27 AM EST

ARCADIA, Fla. - Citrus growers are watching the mercury closely, with two nights of below-freezing temperatures in the forecast.

"It is a wait and see," said Justin Sorrells, a citrus grower in DeSoto County, and president of the Peace River Valley Citrus Growers Association.

Sorrells' family has been in the citrus business for decades, but rarely does he recall temps dropping so low so soon.

"To have the freeze come this early is a bigger concern because all of our oranges are primarily still on the tree," Sorrells said.

When Southwest Florida hit the deep freeze last January, oranges were almost ready for harvest.  This freezing forecast comes a few weeks earlier, when the fruit isn't quite ready.

"We can stand some cold temperatures, its just how cold it gets and for how long."

Dipping just below the freezing mark helps make citrus sweeter, but it starts to become damaging as the mercury plummets past 28 degrees.

"Our only line of defense against this cold weather is our irrigation and turning that water on," Sorrells said.

Warm water sprayed from the ground can create a fog in the grove, keeping temps a few critical degrees warmer; but adding wind to the forecast mix on Monday night could make that effort meaningless.

"What this wind'll do is cause the fog to blow away and we won't have that insulation that the irrigation creates," Sorrells said.  "Once we turn the water on, the only thing left we have to do is pray and hope it doesn't get as cold for as long as they're forecasting."

Sorrells says the first signs of any possible damage could be seen Tuesday morning, but it could take weeks before the full extent of any damage is known.