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Now is the spring of our discontent

March 28, 2013 | 0 comments


The grumbling continued this week among farm folk and their city cousins alike as the weather promised by the first day of spring has not arrived.

"Ridiculous" was a word that sprang to the minds of many people who had to deal with winter-like temperatures and continuing snow events. Since spring began there have been several strong snowstorms with winds that caused drifting and travel difficulties.

As spring officially arrived at 6:02 a.m. on March 20, temperatures across Wisconsin were in the single digits and wind chills made it feel 5-10 degrees colder.

Meteorologists noted that in some places in Wisconsin wind chills were as low as 10 below. Perhaps it feels worse to people because they can remember that last year on the first day of spring it was 81 degrees (sigh.)

Farmers recall having had their equipment out and some in southern Wisconsin even had some seeding in the ground already.

"We were just holding ourselves back from taking the corn planter out," recalled one farmer.

This year’s temperatures are well below what is "normal" for this time of year. Those averages fall in the mid- to upper 40-degree range. With last year’s above-normal temperatures as a comparison, we are 60 degrees away from where we were last year.

It also doesn’t help that snow continued to accumulate, making people wonder when they will get a chance to get into their gardens and farm fields.

The delay of spring-like weather isn’t confined to Wisconsin either. The Cherry Blossom festival in Washington, DC had to be postponed this week as a freak spring snowstorm descended on the city.

In Madison, one radio station is encouraging both male and female listeners to not shave until the temperature hits 60 degrees.

With still frigid temperatures across most of the country, the nation’s prognosticating groundhogs – all of whom predicted an early spring on their special day in February – are coming under fire.

Punxatawny Phil, perhaps the country’s most famous groundhog, who lives in Gobbler’s Knob, in western Pennsylvania, was issued a tongue-in-cheek "indictment" by a prosecutor in Ohio on Friday for predicting an early spring that is now noticeably late.

In Sun Prairie, the southern Wisconsin town that celebrates Groundhog Day with its own "Jimmy the Groundhog", his keeper reported (humorously) this week that he’s had to increase security for the prognosticating rodent.

Jerry Hahn has been taking care of the groundhog for 10 years and bringing him out ceremonially for his weather prediction every Feb. 2. Hahn told Wisconsin State Farmer this week that Jimmy is sleeping in the house with two dogs for protection. "He’s definitely in a kind of witness protection program."

Hahn said he and Jimmy have been getting a lot of publicity lately and good-natured ribbing from his friends and neighbors, most recently at a St. Patrick’s Day celebration and even at church.

"People are telling me they’d love to get their hands on that groundhog. What can I say, weathermen are only about 50 percent right," he says.

But he points out that his groundhog (which is the same as a woodchuck) has a record of being 80 percent right. "Last year he was right on and that didn’t turn out so well."

In 2012 when Jimmy predicted (and we got) an early spring it wasn’t great news for Hahn and many other fruit growers in the state. "I counted 10 killing frosts in April and we lost 90 percent of our apple crop," he said.

Hahn runs a large apple orchard and petting farm outside Sun Prairie. Last year when normal spring weather returned it killed most of the apple flower buds in April.

"I talked to Jimmy about that and asked if he couldn’t dial it back a bit."

During the rest of the year Jimmy lives in the groundhog "palace" down by the barn, says Hahn, who opens his farm to busloads of daycare kids. He has dozens of other animals for the kids to visit once winter releases its grip.

"Most of my friends are asking ‘what happened?’ and I’m blaming it on our mayor. Jimmy whispers his prediction into the mayor’s ear and I think he didn’t understand groundhog-ese. Plus he’s supposed to wear a top hat."

"I don’t know whose blame it is," adds Hahn, reconsidering. "It’s just an old fashioned winter and maybe Jimmy was just wrong."



For livestock farmers, this spring is no laughing matter as they have beef cows calving and ewes lambing in inclement weather. The weather has already caused substantial losses in some ewe flocks.

As for what is to come in April, AccuWeather.com meteorologists noted that thanks to the growing strength of the sun, April will not be as cold as March. But pockets of cold air will continue their assault from the northern Plains to the Midwest into the first half of the month.

In short, they said Tuesday, it is a spring that will continue to evolve slowly. In some places it will be six-eight weeks behind what it was last year.

As farmers know, springtime warmth is highly correlated with how much sunshine gets through the clouds. The good news from the AccuWeather meteorologists is that through the first half of April, most of the northern tier states should get more sunny days than they did during March.

But don’t get too excited. The overall weather pattern into the first part of April will continue to run about a month or so behind schedule, they said, adding that March 2013 behaved a lot like a typical February, and it appears the first half of April will be what March should have been like.

While the weather in the first half of April will bring some warm, sunny days, these could still be outnumbered by days with clouds, showers and chilly conditions, said senior meteorologist Brett Anderson, with AccuWeather.

During the second half of April, AccuWeather’s long-range meteorologists expect the atmosphere to start to behave more like the calendar from the northern Plains through the Midwest and into the Northeast.

According to their long-range weather expert Paul Pastelok, "The number of episodes of cold air should gradually fade away during week three and four of April with temperatures and the weather pattern finally trending toward normal."

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