Snow showers on Monday and a potential for record lows this morning have area farmers and backyard gardeners taking precautions.
A storm over eastern Canada has been redirecting icy north winds across a large swath of the East, meteorologist Andy Mussoline said from AccuWeather’s State College headquarters.
“We have a really good shot at setting a record low,” Mussoline said, noting that the old record in Johnstown of 33 degrees was set in 1928.
Those old records were recorded in downtown Johnstown, where temperatures generally run a few degrees warmer than the current weather station at John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport.
AccuWeather was predicting low temperatures in the upper 20s overnight Monday, but the rain and snow was expected to diminish by midnight, Mussoline said.
The National Weather Service has issued freeze and frost warnings for much of Pennsylvania through this morning, with some rural valleys to hit the mid-20s. Although some areas touched the freezing mark overnight Sunday, the Monday-night freeze was expected to be more widespread, Mussoline said.
Cambria and Somerset counties were not under freeze warnings, but that doesn’t mean sub-freezing temperatures were not expected. The Weather Service issued an advisory noting that overnight temperatures were expected to be at or below freezing across the Laurel Highlands. However, the growing season does not officially begin until next week, so the warnings were not issued.
Damage to crops, gardens and orchards will be mixed, said Tom Ford, commercial horticulture educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension in Cambria County.
Besides temperatures, such things as location and the plants’ stage of development can affect damage rates, he said.
“The greatest concern is with strawberries,” Ford said. “Many growers are reporting 20 percent of the strawberries are in full bloom.”
Freezing plants at the blossoming stage’s peak is most damaging, Ford said, predicting many commercial strawberry operations would be spending the night spraying fields with oscillating sprinklers.
“You have to have water constantly on it,” Ford said.
“You can’t just wet them down one time.”
Orchard operations can use wind machines, kerosene heating systems and other devices, he said, adding that the danger is less widespread for fruit trees this time around.
“They are most sensitive when in full bloom,” Ford said. “Most apple blossoms are at the petal-fall stage by now.”
Some damage may still occur, but left alone, apple trees naturally over-produce, he said.
“You can lose 80 percent of bloom and still have a full crop,” Ford said. “There are more flower buds than you need.”
Normal operations for commercial orchards include knocking off fruit during the season to promote larger apples for harvest, he said.
Forecasters say such late frosts can happen even later in the year. For example, in Bradford, McKean County, the latest recorded spring frost was July 12.
Mussoline said Pennsylvania gets late-spring frosts about every other growing season.
The good news is that this round of freezing temperatures will be short-lived, AccuWeather predicts. Temperatures will rebound rather quickly today and Wednesday, as the Canadian storm moves off, bringing warmer temperatures to the Great Lakes today and to the Northeast Wednesday.
Today’s highs are expected in the mid-50s, soaring into the mid-70s on Wednesday.
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