Sunday, April 22, 2012

Winter Wakes Up Late, Disoriented, and Cranky

For the last six months, it seemed like Winter had been sleeping on the job in much of North America (except Alaska).  After a very unusual October blizzard in the coastal Northeast, most of the US experienced one of the warmest, snow-free winters on record.  Yes, there was snow in Vermont as well as single digit temperatures, but we experienced much less of both than usual, and intermixed with unusually warm days.  A week of unheard-of March warmth capped it all off.  Sure enough, winter seemed like a no-show.

Above:  Trillium in Battell Woods, near Middlebury, Vermont, taking advantage of the warm weather.

The first half of April wasn't unusually warm, and consisted of non-sticking snow, generally dry conditions, and frost settling in the hollows on a few chilly mornings.

Above: Frost near Bristol, Vermont, as mid-April temperatures dropped to just around freezing.

The weather has changed, though.  Yesterday started out warm, but a cold front blasted into town, bringing much-needed rain but cold temperatures.  Today has been overcast and the temperature in East Middlebury never got much above 40.  And, barreling up towards us from the south is a powerful nor'easter.  This sort of storm would bring two feet of snow if it came through Vermont in midwinter, but this late in April it will bring cold rain instead - possibly over 2 inches . In many cases this would cause flooding, but after a very dry spring I don't expect too many problems with this rain.  It should really get the river flowing, though.

Above: wood smoke hangs low over the dry valleys of Vermont after several months of below-average precipitation.  The heavy rain of the next few days is unlikely to cause flooding.

Winter isn't done after this cold storm, either.  Long range forecasts indicate that there is the chance of a late blast of air from the Arctic later next week.  Again, should this weather pattern have set up in January, we'd probably have gotten temperatures down around -20.  Instead, this time we will expect lows that may reach 20 above zero.  This is not unheard of for this time of year, but is unusual.  Unfortunately many plants have leafed out, including apple trees and grape vines.  If this weather pattern verifies, many agricultural interests could see serious impacts.  I also wouldn't be surprised if the Champlain Valley picked up a dusting of snow, and there's an off chance we'd get that same 2 inches of snow we kept getting and losing all winter, sometime in that period.

Above: the warm spring has lured this sensitive fern into sprouting - and it probably isn't going to enjoy next week's hard freeze.  This fern has its name because its aboveground portion is very sensitive to cold.

Others will be even less lucky than Vermont with winter's final temper tantrum.  It is possible that the nor'easter moving through our area will dump over a foot of snow in parts of western New York.  My friend was just in Buffalo and tells me many of the trees there have leafed out.  A foot of wet snow in that area would rip many of these trees to shreds - just like the early snow did in Massachusetts and Connecticut last October.

Even southern California is experiencing a late winter.  Winter in coastal southern California is characterized by rain, whereas summer is very dry.  The last rains usually are winding down by mid April.  Like Vermont, California largely experienced a nonexistent winter.  Coming into April, downtown Los Angeles had accumulated less than 6 inches of rain (a normal year sees around 14).  April has already seen 1.22 inches of rain, and a late season storm forecast for next Thursday my bring up to an inch of additional rain to the area.  This is rather unusual for so late in the season, though not unheard of.  Like much of the East, California saw much of its 'winter' precipitation in October and April.

It will be interesting to see how the plants in both areas respond to the odd weather patterns.  At this point I am ready for summer, and feel that winter should just wait until next year and see if it can do a better job then.  It looks like we're heading into one more week of cold, though.


  1. My wife's tulips are already dead because of a frost the other morning, she'll buy some more.

  2. It's kind of amazing how the rain loves to see how cold it can get without becoming snow. At least it isn't freezing rain... but 38 and rainy is not too fun. Though, since the trees have started leafing out, it is good that it's just rain.

  3. We're planting cautiously. Cold-weather stuff: radishes, peas. And getting ready to set up potato barrels.