April 18, 2013

With Wichita under freeze warning, gardeners wait for spring

Last year, gardeners were planting their annuals in late March. This year, they’ll be lucky to do so in late April.

Last year, gardeners were planting their annuals in late March. This year, they’ll be lucky to do so in late April.

Wichita was under a freeze warning overnight Thursday. And a weekend warm-up will not be sustained. There is a chance of a low of 32 next Tuesday night.

“The big question is, when is spring going to start?” asked Tim Campbell of Plant Kingdom. His retail greenhouses are open for the season with all the plants of spring and summer, but they’ve had to be covered when the nights get cold. “We’ve lost a few things.”

The average date over the past 30 years for the last 32-degree spring frost in Wichita is April 11; the average last date for a hard freeze of 28 is March 29, said Jerilyn Billings, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita. But “average” means that half the time, the last freeze and frost take place later than those dates. The latest 32-degree low for Wichita occurred on May 13, 1966. The latest 28-degree-or-below low occurred on May 4, 1907.

“We have a while” before we would set another record, Billings said.

Fortunately, there have been some April showers to go with the chill and accompanying overcast skies. The precipitation Wednesday and Thursday totaled 1/3 inch of rain in Wichita, Billings said. There was also a trace of snow Thursday morning. It fell along with the pear blossoms.

High temperatures normally would be in the upper 60s this week, Billings said. “We’re significantly below normal,” she said. But the weekend, at least, will see a warm-up to the mid-60s.

“The nice thing will be getting some sun back,” Billings said. Another cold front will come through, though, bringing a chance of thunderstorms Sunday through Tuesday.

The long cold spell makes people hope that the weather doesn’t suddenly jump straight into summer, skipping a normal spring, as happened the year before last.

“Each season acts on their own,” Billings said. “I think we all would like it not to be as hot as the last couple summers.”

The long-range forecast from the Climate Prediction Center does show temperatures above normal for May and for the three-month period of May through July, Billings said. But that doesn’t necessarily mean 100 degrees, she added.

“We would like to see more moisture,” Billings said. The long-term forecast isn’t indicating much in that regard one way or the other, she said.

Campbell said he’s advising customers to give the weather another week before planting warm-season plants, but even then to be prepared to protect them if necessary.

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