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Mild Winter Leaves Some Plants and Crops Vulnerable

2-10-12

By Young Soo Yang

Flowers budding in Ho-Ho-Kus. Photo taken on February 9, 2012 by Bob Males.

According to state climatologist David Robinson, the combined temperatures for this past December and January resulted in the 7th mildest such interval on record in New Jersey since 1895.

It’s a pattern that’s been persistent all winter with prolonged episodes of tranquil, mild weather interspersed with an occasional outbreak of cold weather. But it only stays cold for a couple of days before it warms up again. Says Robinson, “we just can’t keep a continuous flow of arctic air into the region this year. The jet stream pattern in the atmosphere is not permitting it.”

And he doesn’t see anything on the horizon to break that pattern. “Looking at the weather service outlook for the next 2 weeks, there’s no sign of a plunge into a persistently cold pattern.”

Despite the fact that the soil hasn’t been frozen much at all this winter, Robinson says most plant life has remained in dormancy. The danger arises, he says, when plants begin to bud prematurely at the end of February and March, and a late season cold spell hits. “There’s still a lot of cold air up in the north that could plunge in and it only has to plunge in for a night or two.”

Early bloomers like daffodils, blueberries, peaches and forsythia are most at-risk. “Perennials [like] trees (peach trees), bushes (blueberry bushes) … they’re the ones that aren’t planted each year.”

“The vegetables, for the most part, you start worrying about cold conditions in April and May.”

According to Robinson, the extremely mild winter doesn’t signal what kind of summer to expect. “Spring kind of resets everything and there’s no correlation between mild winters [and] hot summers. Last December and January were very cold and we had a scorching hot summer.”

One thing of particular note, says Robinson, the last 12 months have all been above average — temperature-wise. “Twenty-one of the last 23 months, New Jersey’s temperatures have been above average. Even more interesting, the last 2 years — February 2010 thru January 2012 — are the warmest 24-month interval on record in New Jersey. You take 24 consecutive months and look at them back to 1895, there’s not been a warmer one than the 24-month interval that ended with this January.”

Temperatures have indeed gotten warmer in recent decades in New Jersey, says Robinson. He borrows a phrase made popular by economists and calls the new temps the ‘new normal.’