The Big Freeze

A late March cold snap threatened flowers and tender vegetation overnight...but how did the MOV fare?

Person after person walked up to me and asked me if it were true..."Are we really going below freezing tonight?"

One would think that they were asking if I were just making it up, trying to give everyone a good scare, or perhaps trying to drive sales of blankets and frost coverings for the local nursery.

No, we don't make this up.  Getting a cold snap is not all that unusual in the valley, but so short of one is.

What is unusual is the 80 degree temperatures that we "enjoyed" for the week before...spring break for some schools like Ohio University and the Athens school systems, just to name two.

As a result, hundreds of gardeners were fooled into rushing to their local gardening shop, nursery or home improvement store.  They were buying flats of flowers that all were in bloom, thanks not only to the warm bright days but also their stay in the company green house!

Some people planted their plants in pots, keeping them close to the house, so that they could be moved inside when a cold night threatened.  But many others assumed that spring was already here, and there could be no set backs.  They set out their tender vegetation and assumed there would be no more frost or freeze this season.

They were wrong.

So, what could they do?  Some lay out sheets and blankets over their flower bed in the hope that the plants will be shielded from frost and sub-freezing temperatures for the few hours we sink below 32.

Others spray their plants with water, thinking that it will take more cold to freeze the water, and release heat to the plants.

Some light smudge pots, and others burn off brush and leaves in an effort to warm the hollow.

But what do you do if you're a home improvement store who's wares are outdoors under a screen mesh roof with no insulation?  I took a brief tour of one last night as the temperature was dropping, and found lots of netting being secured over groups of plants, clustered in the center of the display area.  Very few plants were left out of the circle, and those were annuals that expect some freezing conditions in their life cycle.

I noticed none of the staff would look at me.  Even though I didn't have a camera, I did have a dress shirt and tie on, and a light jacket.  But no one had any time to wait on me.  I was a little surprised, because as much as the gardening shop staff ignored me, the rest of the customers in the store, at the restaurant or at the gas station all seemed to want some reassurance that it was going to freeze.

When I turned into bed, the temperature at 2 a.m. was just hitting freezing, and my wife had gone to town on her flowers.  Every flowering bush, daffodil or tulip was bagged or covered with a sheet, with clothes-pins to hold them in place.  (There was no wind, but that's besides the point. There was a little as the sun set.)  She remarked on how cold it was becoming as she worked.

By the time I got up today, we were well above freezing again and I had the duty to pull all the covers off the plants to allow them sunshine and warmth again.  It's too early to tell how many we saved, but it was a good effort, even if a little misguided.

Every year she asks me if it's safe to start her gardening. And every year I tell her the same facts: (from the Old Farmer's Almanac, no less!)  The date of the last hard freeze is controlled by the jet stream and passing low pressure/high pressure systems.  They are somewhat unpredictable in the long run.

However, the record book states the latest hard freeze on record is May 25th.  The date of the AVERAGE last freeze is April 25th.  And so a hard freeze in the end of March is not unheard of. In fact it's almost guaranteed.

Except there are no guarantees.

This morning, my wife reported just a little frost getting started on the top of her car roof, just before 8 a.m. as she drove to work.  She interprets that as a near miss.

If she wants to think so, (remember, the enclosed air inside a car acts as an insulator, keeping the interior of a car a few degrees warmer.  So a little frost on top is not a good indicator.)  ...but it is confirmation that we went below freezing.

Let's hope that was the last one.  But we still have a month to go yet.

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