Cold weather will stick around with new freeze warning

rgallagher@newsobserver.comApril 14, 2014 

— Arctic air is expected to bring temperatures at or near freezing for a second night from Wake County to the Tennessee border, meaning farmers and apple growers have a second day to worry.

Temperatures in the Triangle generally held a few degrees above freezing overnight Tuesday, but readings in western areas were as low as 24 in Boone at 6 a.m.

Readings like that are a threat to early blooming varieties of apple trees.

The freeze warning issued by forecasters in Raleigh and Blacksburg, Va., for Thursday said temperatures could slide below 32 degrees from midnight Wednesday until about 9 a.m. and perhaps be colder than Wednesday morning’s readings.

Strawberry growers were likely to need woven fabric “row covers” that agriculture experts had advised them to pull over their plants for Tuesday night.

Apple growers in the western counties were in danger of severe damage to early blooming trees as that region looked at two mornings of below freezing temperatures, Steve McArtney, a horticultural sciences associate professor at North Carolina State University, said from his office in Mills River.

Wheat growers were keeping their fingers crossed that a wet, cold winter might turn out to be a blessing because their crop is about three weeks behind normal and may be immune to a brief freeze, Randy Weisz, a crop science professor at N.C. State and an expert on small grains, said.

Some farmers have planted corn already, but it should survive.

As for beans, “They’re going to die” if they are in places where it gets to the 28 degrees that the National Weather Service said is possible, according to state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services field agronomist Don Nicholson.

Late cold is not something strawberry farmers have never dealt with, but it requires hard work when it happens.

“With a minimum of 28 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, I would have to recommend row cover protection,” E. Barclay Poling wrote Tuesday morning on his website for strawberry growers.

They pay attention to Poling, a professor emeritus at N.C. State University and interim executive director of the N.C. Strawberry Association.

“Once you reach harvest season, you should not have to be worrying about FREEZES!” Poling wrote, but nature was not among his readers.

The state’s 800,000 acres of winter wheat crop might be at risk if this winter had not stalled growth somewhat, said Weisz, who also has a website for growers.

“I think we’re going to sneak by tonight,” Weisz said, because wheat is at a stage where it can handle high-20s temperatures for a couple of hours.

But farmers won’t know positively for a week or so, after seed heads begin to push out of the stalks and growers can see if they show any signs of freezing, Weisz said.

Corn should survive because, even though some leaves may be out of the ground and will freeze, the growing parts of the plants are still below ground and will just start over, the agriculture department’s Nicholson said.

The apple crop faces a serious risk, McArtney said.

The biggest crop in the mountain region, Rome apples, have not yet begun to bloom and can handle the cold, he said. However, earlier crops, such as Gala apples, have begun to flower.

Data show that 24 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes can kill 10 percent of an apple crop and 25 degrees for a half-hour can kill 90 percent of the flowers, McArtney said.

“In the field, the temperature is all over the place” all night, McArtney said. It may be at its lowest for only a few minutes or it might be for longer.

“It’ll be a very telling time” for apple growers, McArtney said, and there is nothing they can do but wait.

They have seen it before.

A cold snap in 2012 came after a mild winter had encouraged crops to grow faster than usual.

In 2007, the “Easter freeze” damaged a lot of the state’s fruit and wheat crops, N.C. State experts recalled.

Gallagher: 919-829-4572

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service