by Bob Allen for The Environment Report
Warmer temperatures and melting snow are less than ideal for winter sports and outdoor festivals. But the weird weather has northern Michigan fruit growers holding their breath, hoping to avoid disaster.
In his more than 20 years as an agricultural extension agent in the Traverse City area, Duke Elsner says this is the most bizarre winter weather he’s ever seen.
“The ups and downs have just been remarkable. The inability to hang on to a cold period for any length of time has been very strange.”
A gradual drop in temperature at the beginning of winter and holding there below freezing for long periods are the ideal conditions for plant to become frost hardy, and hardiness is what protects them from getting damaged by cold.
But when temps bounce up into the 40’s and 50’s as they’ve done frequently this winter, some of that hardiness is lost.
“Our trees and vines can take below zero in a normal winter. I sure wouldn’t want to drop below zero at this point in time, I’ll say that.”
That’s fruit grower Jim Nugent. He and a couple of his neighbors are doing the yearly chore of pruning his cherry trees. With long-handled saws, they reach up eight or ten feet to strip away branches and limbs.
Nugent knows his orchard is vulnerable right now because of a loss of winter hardiness. But there’s not a lot he can do about it.
Things could go either way at this point.
A sudden drop to zero would be serious.
But orchards still may slide by unscathed. If temps gradually drop below freezing and stay there, trees will regain some of their hardiness.