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Freeze warning in effect for parts of Florida's citrus belt

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MIAMI (Reuters) - U.S. government forecasters posted a freeze warning for parts of Florida's key citrus-growing region for the second straight day on Sunday as a cold front threatened to push temperatures in central and northern regions of the Sunshine State well below freezing.

Robert Garcia, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Tampa Bay-Ruskin, said temperatures were unlikely to drop low enough and long enough to cause any significant damage to the state's $9 billion citrus industry.

But he said the cold snap could see temperatures fall below 27 Fahrenheit (minus 2.7 Celsius) by Monday morning.

Typically, citrus can be damaged by four hours or more of temperatures below 28 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 2 Celsius).

"We're not thinking we're going to see that," Garcia said.

Freeze watches and warnings were in effect for much of Florida's citrus-growing regions through Monday morning.

Garcia said the only real threat of a hard freeze was in extreme northern regions, on the periphery of the state's most productive orange groves.

"A lot of the areas that grow citrus will hopefully stay a lot warmer," Garcia said.

A spokesman for the state's leading growers association, Florida Citrus Mutual, could not be reached for immediate comment. But no special advisories about the cold snap over the long holiday weekend were posted on the association's website or Twitter feed.

Florida's groves yield more than 75 percent of the U.S. orange crop and account for about 40 percent of the world's orange juice supply.

(Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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