For Release January 29, 2006

Warm Weather is Nice, But......

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

Given the price of furnace fuel, I don't think anyone is complaining about the temperatures we've been seeing this month. Certainly with energy prices at record highs, above normal temperatures seem to be a welcome sight! But what looks like a good thing in the short term may not be all that good in the long run!

Through the middle of last week, we had average temperatures running at a level that would not just beat the record warmest January, it would shatter the old record! Average January temperatures would indicate that we should be having highs in the mid to upper 30s and lows around 16 or 17 degrees. Right now we have overnight lows that are barely getting below expected daily highs. And if the weather forecast for temperatures for the remaining few days of the month hold even close to expected, our January monthly mean temperature will be 15 to 16 degrees above normal.

When you add what's happening this month to the previous 16 consecutive months that were all above average and several months of below average rainfall, I start getting nervous. So what does this mean and what possible impact might this have on our plants and crops?

Next month could change everything. It could just as easily turn cold and wet for the next three months. Unfortunately the 90 day outlook shows no specific trend on temperatures but a strong trend towards below normal precipitation. Throw all of these projections into the same formula that has the past several months and you've got the start of another drought.

There isn't much we can do about above, or below, normal temperatures. The plants just have to survive, or not. IF this warm weather continues, then we run a pretty good risk of having fruit trees break bud prematurely, probably getting frosted and thereby ending much chance of having homegrown fruit. Many of our spring flower shrubs such as lilacs, forsythia, quince, etc. are also at risk of premature budding making them susceptible to being frosted or frozen completely. This won't kill the plants, it simply wipes out one year of blooms.

Obviously wheat is at a similar risk. This much warm weather so early has already caused a lot of the wheat to start to green up. There's not a darn thing that you can do about that. Cold weather from here on won't be a problem, as long as we work our way back down to those temperatures and don't have a 70 or 80 degree temperature swing in one or two days. That's when the damage happens.

Most of our crops are planted on non-irrigated acreage so there also isn't much we can do about below normal precipitation. But in our landscapes we can do something about low rainfall. Even though it is January, I'd be getting the hoses out and watering any evergreen you have in your yard. I'd water spruces first, then pines and junipers last. Do not turn on the lawn sprinklers! The lawn doesn't need it yet and you're just asking for busted pipes when we have a fast hard freeze. But hook up the hoses and soak the root zone under the tree with a slow running hose for several hours.

Remember, these evergreens still have their leaves and on these warm days they are still using water for photosynthesis. If the tree runs out of soil moisture, it'll start using water within the plant, and then you have winterkill that shows up weeks or months later, when it's too late to do anything. So prevent those problems with some management now!


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