The 2016-17 meteorological winter comes to an end next Tuesday, on the final day of February. There are people in the Rock Hill area who would say this winter never started.
The warmest winter for the region in 61 years has cut heating bills and lowered the misery level for people who don’t like cold, snow and ice. It has brought headaches for the Southeast’s ski resort operators, some of whom were forced to close briefly in January and February.
And for the region’s farmers and produce growers? Well, they’re not sure.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” says Sam Hall, of Bush-N-Vine Farm in York. “We’ll have crops ripen really early this year, but there’ll be the danger of a freeze later in March.”
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Rock Hill’s high temperature has been at least 68 degrees on a daily basis since last Friday. That’s about 10 degrees above the seasonal average, but it’s about to get warmer.
The National Weather Service predicts a high Thursday of 75 degrees, with temperatures approaching 80 on Friday. A brief cool down is expected from Saturday night through Sunday night, but then it’s back to the 70s next week.
And the long-range forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration , stretching to March 10, shows a very high likelihood of above-average temperatures.
“I’ve been at this office for 23 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Rodney Hinson, of the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C.
Temperatures so far for the meteorological winter – Dec. 1-Feb. 28 – have averaged 47.6 degrees in Charlotte. Hinson says that’s the warmest since an average of 49 degrees in the winter of 1955-56.
Meteorologists say there are a number of reasons for the Southeast’s warmth, but the main drivers have been a persistent area of high pressure off the Southeast coast and a jet stream that has largely run west-to-east this winter, blocking the intrusion of cold air masses from the Arctic.
Will it continue through the rest of March and April, sparing the Rock Hill area another freeze? Forecasters say they can’t predict accurately that far ahead. Those who are willing to take a stab at long-range forecasts are divided. Some say the atmosphere eventually will even things out, with some cold air returning. Others say winter has ended.
Either way, this is shaping up as a spring like no other – at least in recent years.
“We’re running a month or so ahead of schedule,” Bush-N-Vine’s Hall says of the strawberry crop. “We’ll be picking berries (in the outdoor patches) in about two weeks. Usually, we start doing that in early April.”
Hall says peach trees also are beginning to bloom, and that troubles him.
If another cold snap arrives, farmers can take some steps to protect strawberries. It’s much more difficult to protect the peach crop, farmers say.
“Everything is moving, and moving means that dormancy has ceased,” Clemson University commercial horticulture agent Greg Henderson told the Southern Farm network last week. “So, it’s very concerning at this time.”
The Weather Service’s Hinson says this weekend tells the whole story about the winter.
“We’re talking about a cold snap that will last a little more than one day – and produce temperatures that are actually about average for this time of year,” Hinson says. “And that’s a cool down this winter.”
When Is It Safe?
History shows freezing temperatures usually last into March and April in the area. Here are the dates of the last freezing temperatures at the National Weather Service reporting station in Charlotte:
▪ 2016 – March 3
▪ 2015 – March 29
▪ 2014 – April 16
▪ 2013 – March 29
▪ 2012 – March 11
▪ 2011 – April 6
▪ 2010 – March 27
▪ 2009 – March 22
▪ 2008 – April 16
▪ 2007 – April 10