- Chill sends farmers scrambling to save crops, plants
- Another round of cold will drop across eastern U.S. by Friday
After a March that promised a warm start to spring, April has arrived to chill the start of Major League Baseball, threaten crops with frost and dump snow and hail on New York and Boston.
Cold isn’t done with the eastern U.S. quite yet.
Freeze warnings stretched Tuesday from Illinois to New Jersey and south into North Carolina. A brief warmup will erase them, but by Friday temperatures from New York to Washington could drop back into the 30s Fahrenheit (near zero Celsius.)
“I think there is a good chance they will have to repost some of those warnings,” said Mike Musher, a forecaster at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
Will it ever get warm again?
“That is a good question,” Musher said. “It’s funny with baseball season starting. Much of March was so warm.”
Baseball is supposed to be a sign of spring warmth and a harbinger of hot summer days, yet spectators have been shivering in the stands and Boston got almost 8 inches (20 centimeters) of snow Sunday and Monday. Fans might need to pack jackets in Augusta, Georgia, this weekend while the Masters Golf Tournament is in full swing.
For farmers in the eastern U.S., temperatures across many fields are forecast to dip below the 32-degree freezing mark Tuesday night. Trenton, New Jersey, could reach a low of 23 degrees; Hagerstown, Maryland, 27; Charlottesville, Virginia, 28; and Raleigh, North Carolina, 29, according to the National Weather Service. New York and Philadelphia will reach into the 20s, while Boston could hit 19. Washington will flirt with a freeze.
Freeze warnings are directed at farmers and anyone else tending plants and crops, and not necessarily at weary commuters waiting for a train to work. The alerts mean damage could occur. Often, however, that can’t be assessed until after the fact.
“Every crop is different and every cell structure is different,” said Douglas Fisher, New Jersey’s secretary of agriculture. “There is no blanket answer for this.”
Assessing damage and measuring risk is further complicated by whether the crops are located on a hill or in a valley, Fisher said. The plants themselves also seem fickle. Some have taken advantage of the warmth, while others are holding back.
“The plants are almost cautious,” he said.
The weather has been urging the plants to get spring started. New Jersey, for example, had its sixth-warmest March in records back to 1895 and the plants began to green, said David Robinson, the state climatologist based at Rutgers University.
He said he even had to mow his lawn because the grass has been growing so long. The 48 contiguous U.S. states posted the warmest December-February on record, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, North Carolina. Those months represent meteorological winter.
In New Jersey, known for its peaches, apples and blueberries, the warm winter and mild March moved the growing season ahead by about 10 days, Robinson said. That’s a big change from last year, when the cold lingered and the season was delayed by about 10 days, he said.
Farmers have tools to fight back against falling temperatures, including lighting fires, using specialized torches called smudge pots, spraying plants with water and using giant fans.
With temperatures forecast to drop into the 20s in the East on Tuesday, “we are waiting for Mother Nature to deal her hand,” Fisher said.
As for spring? Temperatures across the eastern U.S. could reach normal levels for this time of year by April 15, according to Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland. Just in time for us to pay our taxes.