by Tom Ross
Taking a look back at our winter, we had a wild ride over the last three months. January featured several snowy periods with frequent Arctic blasts. In fact, according to daily records at the Asheville airport, we had at least three days with lows in the single numbers. In contrast, February brought balmy conditions with record-breaking warmth, and lots of vegetation started to bud or “wake up.” The monthly average temperature was 50.3 degrees, making it the warmest February on record. We actually went about two weeks at mid-month without freezing temperatures. However, March abruptly put an end to our early spring with below-freezing temperatures arriving again with quite a bit of wind and some snow. The arrival of the colder nights at the beginning of the month helped to put a much needed restraint on an early and false spring across the region.
In terms of precipitation, we are above average for the year, which is good. The winter rains and snow help to recharge our streams and rivers as we set up spring and summer. Precipitation in the fall, winter, and early spring tends to occur with well-defined, strong frontal systems. These systems tend to bring widespread rains everywhere across our area. However, when we get into summer, our precipitation tends to be more convective, which means that rainfall is more spotty and localized. So having ample moisture at the beginning of the year sets us up for a nice, lush, green spring.
In terms of planting, now that we are in the warmer days of April, I still wouldn’t run out and plant all your tomatoes. Our region is notorious for late freezes in the middle and latter half of April. I grow a large variety of plants and trees at my nursery. April can be, and usually is, wildly variable, with sudden and abrupt changes. As a nursery owner, April is my most difficult month. In the past during some Aprils, I have had thunderstorms produce hail that caused tree damage and also late frosts that caused me to cover and move newly leafed Japanese Maples into protective areas. I usually breathe a sigh of relief when mid-May arrives and am usually out of danger at least in terms of killing frosts. I usually follow the old timer’s saying, “Don’t plant your tomatoes outside until Mother’s Day.” They really don’t grow that much until the soil temperatures warm up close to 60 degrees, which doesn’t happen until May. You can check our soil temperatures in the region at climate.ncsu.edu or greencastonline.com/tools/soil-temperature.
Meteorologist Tom Ross managed the Climate Database Modernization Program at the National Climatic Data Center.