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Record-breaking low temperatures won't hurt crops, experts say

May 21, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Monday morning's low of 33 degrees in Hagerstown may have broken the record for May 20, but Tri-State area agricultural and weather experts said the recent cold temperatures are nothing to worry about.

Forecasters issued a frost advisory for much of the area Sunday and Monday nights.

Washington County Extension Agent Don Schwartz said crops would be in danger only if the temperature dropped below 30 degrees and stayed that way for several hours.

"I certainly don't see it as a danger," said Craig Yohn, extension agent for the West Virginia University Extension Service in Jefferson County. "It has certainly happened this late before or even later."

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National Weather Forecaster Jim DeCarufel said the cool temperatures are a result of a strong, cold, high-pressure system pushing down from Canada, covering much of the eastern part of the United States.

"It might be a little unusual, but it's not unheard of," DeCarufel said. "It has snowed before this late in the year."

Yohn said that while some crops may have received minor frostbite, he hasn't received any reports of major damage.

Hagerstown weather watcher Greg Keefer reported on his Web site that Monday's low was 33 degrees at 5:40 a.m., which beat the 87-year-old record low for the month set on May 20, 1915. The record set that day was a low of 36 degrees.

Schwartz said Monday morning's temperature may have been cold enough to slow the growth of crops, such as corn, but not damage them.

"Little bits of scattered frost is not going to cause major damage," Schwartz said. "If it gets bit a little, don't look at it for a week and you'll never notice the difference."

Schwartz and Franklin County Extension Director Robert Kessler said tomatoes grown in back yards and flowers are more susceptible to some frost than crops grown on farms.

"Agricultural crops tend to be pretty tolerant," Kessler said.

A message on the answering machine at Gardenhour Orchards Inc. in Smithsburg stated the cold weather may have slowed the growth of strawberries, but that the business hopes to begin selling them over Memorial Day weekend.

The weather so far hasn't affected the opening dates of local public swimming pools. The pool at Martin L. "Marty" Snook Memorial Park in Halfway and Potterfield Pool in Hagerstown are set to open over the holiday weekend.

The National Weather Service predicted the lows would remain in the 30s tonight, move to the 40s on Wednesday and Thursday, then to the 50s by the end of the week and over Memorial Day weekend.

"It just reminds us that we can have some unusual weather," Schwartz said. "It's not really a big news item."

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