Commonwealth Journal

April 15, 2014

Warm weather interrupted by winter redux

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

Some bureaucrat tried to fix global warming and apparently overdid it. That frigid wind yesterday morning wasn’t blowing flower petals. The white stuff was persistent snow from unruffled gray skies. It was “Redbud Winter” in long underwear.
One had to blink twice to believe it. The frigid wind and snow were almost unconscionable after 80-degree days last week. Accumulations on rooftops and grassy areas were approaching an inch at midmorning yesterday.
Even under cloudy skies, maximum temperatures Monday were in the 70s. It was 50 degrees at 2 a.m. Tuesday and by daybreak thermometers were at the freezing point and the ground was white with snow.
Go ahead and admit it. You couldn’t resist gardening during last week’s wonderful weather. That’s OK. They’ve got some more plants down at the store; unless they forget to move the tender shoots inside.
The cold got worse before it gets better. If the National Weather Service is correct, temperatures are in the upper teens to low 20s as your morning newspaper hit the doorsteps a few moments ago. Surface of the ground is crusted; tulips glorious heads are bent, as if sorrowful to say good-bye.
“Basically it’s fruit crops that will be hurt,” said Richard Whitis, county agricultural Extension agent. “Fortunately, spring was slow in coming and winter wheat is not far enough along to be damaged,” he said. Few, if any, agricultural crops are above ground at this point in the season.
 “This (hard freeze) is a concern for all fruit growers,” added Beth Wilson, Extension agent for horticulture. Wilson is worried about her own strawberry plants, grown over plastic sheeting, that are in full bloom. She said strawberry plants not grown over plastic have not bloomed.
  The horticulturist advised people wherever possible to cover plants sufficiently to hold ground heat. If you didn’t do it last night, it’s too late now.
 Meteorologists said Tuesday that as skies cleared last night and winds became light temperatures would plummet well into the 20s. Upper teens would be possible in colder valleys, the National Weather Service said. Frost is also possible tonight and again Thursday night into early Friday morning.
  The current cold spell likely won’t set low temperature records. Seven years ago –– April 2007 –– Arctic cold moved in April 5 and low temperatures dropped to 19 on April 7; 18 on April 8; and 20 on April 9. On four of five days during the cold spell, maximum readings didn’t get out of the 40s. The ground froze like a rock and snowflakes put meringue on green grass. There wasn’t as much snow in April 2007 as the amount that fell yesterday morning.
March 2007 was much warmer than last month and spring growth had progressed more than now. The bitterly cold weather in April 2007 froze foliage and gave woodlands an autumn-like appearance.
A similar cold snap occurred in late April 1986. The freeze wiped out an entire fruit crop.
No doubt emerging leaves this spring are frozen by last night’s cold. In a week or so, after the freeze damage becomes evident, we may call this a “brown spring” as we did seven years ago, and in April 1986.
“Trees will be all right,” said Wilson. “This kind of cold causes stress, but leaves will re-emerge.
The current cold spell won’t last as long as the April 2007 deep freeze. Today’s maximum temperature should be in the upper 50s and the highs will be in the 60s for the remainder of the week. Nighttime temperatures will remain below normal.