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Cold air mass over California brings freeze concerns for agriculture; homeless shelters open


LOS ANGELES — A cold air mass over California prompted widespread freeze warnings and watches Friday, raising concerns for crops in the agricultural San Joaquin Valley and for homeless people in urban centers, even as skiers and snowboarders took advantage of snowy slopes.

Overnight temperatures did not dip quite as low as forecast, said National Weather Service meteorologist David Spector, though much of the southern San Joaquin Valley was just below freezing during Friday's early hours.

Citrus crops likely escaped damage — temperatures did not stay at or below 28 degrees for more than two hours, which is when problems can occur, Spector said. Still, the California Citrus Mutual trade association's weather service recommended using orchard fans to push the temperature up a few degrees.

The Weather Service issued another freeze warning for Friday night in the region, which would make it the third overnight in a row.

Cold weather shelters for the homeless were being opened throughout California.

South of San Francisco Bay, Santa Clara County opened its shelters a week early, offering beds for up to 180 people at a shelter in Gilroy and an extra 70 at a facility in San Jose.

"The cold weather came on unexpectedly," said Claire Wagner, director of communications for HomeFirst, the largest provider of homeless services for Santa Clara County. "I think what people in California forget, in particular in the Bay Area where the weather is so temperate, is people do die of exposure."

At the Oakland's Covenant House California, Bay Area Development Officer Colleen Miller said the service agency for at-risk youth living on the streets just received 50 sleeping bag coats and demand for them would likely be high.

"During the day (people) can use them as a nice warm winter coat and at night (they) can pull down the inside of the coat and use it as a sleeping bag," she said.

Cold weather cautions were also issued for the southwestern end of the state, where light snow continued in some mountain.

In the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles, 3 inches of snow fell overnight at the Bear Mountain resort and the slopes were filled with skiers and ski school students. Temperatures were expected to stay around freezing before starting to rise Sunday.

"It's snowing right now as a matter of fact," said Micheal Evans, a resort reservation agent. "Steadily."

Two-thirds of the way through autumn, the arrival of fall weather in Southern California came less than a week after another round of summerlike heat spawned by Santa Ana wind conditions.

Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said there had been a handful of fires believed caused by heating devices.

Humphrey urged residents to make sure their home heating systems have been inspected by a professional and were operating properly. For those relying on space heaters, he said people should replace hand-me-down devices that have been in families for generations.

"Make sure not to overload the circuit," he said. "And never leave the space heater unattended."

Friday also brought more astronomical high tides — a coastal overflow caused by an alignment of the sun, Earth and moon.

At Alamitos Bay in Long Beach, seawater covered 10-to-20 yards of beach and lapped along a wall that separates the sand from a street.

Associated Press writers Kristin J. Bender in San Francisco, John Antczak in Los Angeles and Gillian Flaccus in Long Beach contributed to this report.

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