March 15, 2012

February March Temperatures: More Lamb than Lion

The budding trees and blooming flowers tell the story: This has been a particularly mild winter.

"You have to go back to 1991-1992 for a warmer winter," said Pat Guinan, state climatologist with the University of Missouri Extension Commercial Agriculture Program. "Indeed, this winter will rank easily in the top five mildest winters for the state of Missouri."

In every month since December, temperatures across Missouri have run about 4-6 degrees above normal.

Missouri isn't alone. People across much of the U.S. have been enjoying mild temperatures, though ski states have suffered from the shortage of snow.

"Of course, warm temperatures and snow don't get along, so we've seen a much lower amount of snowpack this winter," Guinan said. "Most of our days in Missouri - about 70 percent from December through February - have been above normal in temperature across the state. Some numbers are indicating that for the U.S. as a whole, it was the fourth-warmest winter on record."

Still, winter isn't over yet. Plants, however, haven't been waiting for the official start of spring.

With trees budding early, soil temperatures warming and flowers emerging, the stage is set for plants to get knocked back by a spring freeze.

"With these advanced stages of vegetative growth, it's possible that moderate freezing temperatures in April could hurt fruit trees and other plants," Guinan said. "We all remember the Easter freeze during the first week of April 2007."

That event led to significant damage to fruit crops, forages, winter wheat and even some early-planted corn in southeast Missouri. "This is an emerging situation that will be monitored very closely," he said.

The eyes and noses of allergy sufferers have already alerted them that plants are back in business.

"Magnolia trees are already blooming, forsythia and daffodils are well into the blooming stage, and apricots, apples and peaches are running ahead of normal in regard to their growth," Guinan said. "We've already seen high tree pollen counts during the last week of February, and those will continue running above normal in March with these unseasonably mild temperatures."

Predictions indicate odds favoring a wetter-than-normal March for most of the state. Some areas of far southeastern Missouri have already received 2-3 inches from a single rain event. However, long-range outlooks give equal chances of not enough, average and above-average rainfall for spring into summer.

Wind has combined forces with above-normal temperatures to leave soils dryer than usual during the winter. Weather stations around Missouri have recorded gusts up to 50 mph.

"On a few days we had a lot of sunshine, high temperatures, low humidity and winds blowing 30-40 miles per hour," Guinan said. "That led to significant moisture loss in the soil profile. At one of my weather stations, I measured moisture loss at 2/10 of an inch, which is a significant amount in March. That is more typical of June or July."

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