Commonwealth Journal

April 10, 2014

Gardeners still concerned about spring cold snaps

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset — Warm sunshine and spring flowers are welcome after a long, cold winter, but green-thumb gardeners still worry about frequent cold snaps that kill tender plants.

Frost, even a freeze, is possible during sure-to-come Redbud Winter, Dogwood Winter, Snowball Winter, Blackberry Winter and Linen Britches Winter. The National Weather Service Office at Jackson has compiled statistics showing early, late and median dates of springtime frosts and freezing temperatures in the Somerset-Pulaski County area.

Using a statistical period from 1981 to 2010 and a record period from 1950 to 2011, the Weather Service gives the following frost and freeze observations for the spring season in this area:

• Last 36-degree reading can range from April 9 to June 1. Median date for the last 36-degree reading is May 1.

The temperature can get colder than 36 degrees in June. A 34-degree official temperature on June 1, 1966, created a white frost and killed beans, tomatoes and other garden plants all over Pulaski County, according to the late Hugh Hurst, who was county agricultural Extension agent at the time. The June frost was the lead story in the Commonwealth Journal on June 2, 1966.

• Last 32-degree reading may vary from March 23 to May 27. Median date for the last 32-degree reading is April 20. The latest 32-degree reading on May 27 was in 1961, according to National Weather Service records.

• The latest 28-degree reading in springtime may occur between February 27 and May 10. The 28-degree reading on May 10 occurred in 1966, three weeks before the 34-degree reading on June 1. It was in 2011 that it got no colder than 28 degrees after February 27. Gardens were planted during that early spring, but some stuff got bit by a couple or three heavy frosts that occurred later.

Spring can bring some weird weather. For example, on May 19, 1886, a snowstorm left an accumulation of 6 inches across southern and central Kentucky, including Pulaski County. Trees were fully leafed and corn was ankle high.

The big May snow is recorded in “A History of Pulaski County, Kentucky” by Alma Owens Tibbals. The late Sam Cox, state forester in Pulaski County, said the wet snow, clinging to full foliage, left bended limbs still visible on old trees in woodlands.

This reporter’s father, the late Owen Mardis, told the story about the big May snow in Taylor County many times. The elder Mr. Mardis recalled that as he went to the barn to milk just before dark that night a cold rain was mixed with big, wet globs of snow. There was no electricity or electric lights in that time so it was impossible to see the snow in the dark of night. The next morning, May 20, 1886, 6 inches of snow covered grassy areas, Mardis said.

This reporter at one time had actual weather records of the big May snow recorded by a National Weather Service observer in Bowling Green. A weather station at Eubank recorded a high of 39 degrees on May 19, 1886.

Can beautiful spring weather turn ugly? The answer obviously is “yes.” Glen Conner, former state climatologist, told this reporter that snow flurries have been reported in Pulaski County in June.