Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Time of Waiting

Just a little over a week ago, Vermont (like most of the northern US) experienced by far the warmest March weather on record.  Temperatures surged over 80 (f) at times, and many plants decided to take the gamble and start growing early.  Then the bottom fell out.

The cold snap was nothing out of the ordinary - temperatures dropped to 22 degrees in Burlington, nowhere near mid March record lows which run in the single digits.  However, because of the incredibly warm temperatures of the previous week, it was quite a shock.

The cold front that brought this colder air mass blew through in the wee hours of the morning of March 26.  The wind rattled the windows and woke me up, and there was a brief shower of graupel and snow.  The drive to my first day of work featured a light dusting of snow on top of recently plowed (but not planted) fields and newly blooming flowers.


The 26th was an eerie day.  Everything stood frozen.  The plants and animals of Vermont had placed their bets, and the north wind dealt a harsh hand.  There was nothing to do but wait... wait and see if a dumping of snow would rip the branches off of any tree that was flowering, or if a long cold spell would destroy the new leaves sprouting on the forest floor.

Above:  This coltsfoot seemed to be trying to hide from the cold air.

As the week stretched on, things warmed up a bit, but only to (cold) average late March levels.  We have experienced a common Vermont spring form of precipitation I like to call "fancy rain" - stuff that falls from the sky as snow but acts like rain as it melts on contact with anything.  We've also had a dusting of snow here and there, and the high peaks have actually started collecting snow again after losing almost all of it to the heat wave.


A bunch of sugar maple seedlings had germinated in our lawn, but they haven't grown a bit since the cold snap came.  I'm not sure if they will survive the cold or not (though they will not survive the lawnmower).


It's too soon to tell if the leaves of this invasive honeysuckle have been damaged by the cold, but beaing a pervasive invasive it probably won't be hit too hard:


Balsam poplar had also started leafing out, but this is a very cold-hardy tree and I doubt it will see ill effects:


The river is running low, because what little snowpack is left is not in a hurry to melt:


(note that the river isn't actually dry, as the larger branch in the background is still flowing.  Still, I could almost get across without getting wet)

This little spring ephemeral wildflower does not look happy...


...and the same holds true for these horsetails:


Ultimately, I doubt any of Vermont's native plants will be hit too hard by this odd weather.  Most were not tricked into leafing out or flowering.  The maples may experience a poor seed crop, but last year was a very good seed year, so it probably won't make much of a difference in that regard.  Perhaps there will be higher seedling mortality than usual, but sugar maple is very cold tolerant, and I'd guess most of the little seedlings will survive.  The oak, ash, hickory, birch, basswood, and sycamore trees all haven't hit budburst yet.   Other plants may not be so lucky, though, and for some areas to our south, farmers could be facing significant losses (here in Vermont, even with the incredibly odd weather, everyone knew temperatures would fall well below freezing again many times over the next month).

I placed a small bet with winter myself, and planted a few frost-hardy seeds (beets, radishes, and turnips).  I'm not sure if these little sprouts will survive, but if not, it wasn't much of a loss.  I didn't put much time into planting them, and they haven't been growing for very long.


The long-range forecasts call for fairly uneventful, seasonably cold weather over the next week or two. Despite the odd weather of March, the first half of April in Vermont will be what it always is: a time of waiting.

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