Photographer: Rick Rudnicki/Getty Images

New York's Cold Snap Matters a Lot More Than Boston's Right Now

  • Growing season determines when freeze warnings get posted
  • Chills that kill have consequences for agriculture markets

Not all cold spells are treated equally, especially when farmers are concerned.

If you looked at the National Weather Service map last week, you would have noticed something interesting: freeze warnings and watches extended all the way from Georgia through New York before stopping.

That’s not to say that the cold ended at Connecticut’s shoreline and the lower Hudson Valley. Boston’s low hit the freezing mark at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 Celsius) and Hartford and Albany dropped into the 20s. The likely fallout for farmers is behind the anomaly. Freezing temperatures south of the line were seen as having the potential to cost growers money. To the north, it was still too early to make much of a difference.

“Freeze and Hard Freeze watches and warnings are generally focused toward agriculture interests and others who have a need to know,” said Eli Jacks, who heads up the weather service’s forecast services division in Silver Spring, Maryland. “The Long Island area has already started agricultural activity that may be affected by a freeze, whereas the Boston area has probably not begun.”

This special class of warnings only appears in the fall and spring. You won’t see them in most of the U.S. in January when frigid air and high winds can freeze a commuter’s exposed skin in about 15 minutes. These advisories are not meant to protect people. They’re for plants.

When they appear on the map there is a sense of drama surrounding them. Farmers have to take to their fields to do what they can to protect crops.

Nature’s Schedule

Mild temperatures across New Jersey in March brought forward the start of the growing season by about 10 days to two weeks. That spurred the National Weather Service to consult with David Robinson, the state climatologist, to adjust the dates to match nature’s own schedule.

A good freeze in the spring can knock the blossoms off apple trees and leave them barren, hurt berry crops and cut into agricultural yields when it comes to harvest time, Robinson said. 

The same is true in regions including the Midwest, where sensitive crops can be killed by the cold. Such a warning went out Monday night across parts of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa and Illinois, which covers the center of the corn belt.

So while it can get cold in the spring, there are times when it just causes a commuter to shiver on a train platform and others when it can move agricultural markets.

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