Gardeners are advised to cover their plants tonight to protect them from a wintry blast expected to chill Lawrence overnight.
Matt Foster, forecaster for the Kansas University Weather Service, the official reporting station for Lawrence, this morning predicted that tonight's low temperature will fall to a painful 23 degrees. There's also a chance of snow flurries. Friday night won't be much better, with the low expected to dip to the mid-20s.
Dennis Bejot, Douglas County Extension Service director, said this morning that local gardeners should cover their plants tonight to help them survive the cold.
Bejot said that all flowering plants and especially those that already have begun to flower should be covered. Gardeners can cover their plants with on old blanket, bed sheets, plastic plant caps sold at garden stores or straw mulch.
PLANTS REQUIRE just enough protection to keep them out of the cold for long periods of time, Bejot said. Vegetable gardeners also could help their plants by covering them, he said.
Bejot said he didn't think the cold temperatures would be around long enough to seriously damage plants.
He also said the low temperatures shouldn't cause any serious damage to area fruit trees because their leaves aren't yet developed enough.
"There should be no damage for as cold as they say it's going to get," Bejot said.
The below-freezing temperatures will slow growth of wheat in the area and could damage the plants if the low temperatures are sustained long enough, according to Jack Lindquist, Douglas County agriculture extension agent.
Lindquist said a temperature of 20 degrees needs only about two hours to damage a young wheat plant's leaf cell structure, adding that tonight's predicted low temperature is at the plant damage threshold, placing farmers in a wait-and-see situation.
TONIGHT'S chilling temperatures could cause more damage than the Arctic blast that hit Lawrence a couple of weeks ago because no snow accumulation is expected tonight, Lindquist said. The storm that passed through two weeks ago came with snow, which insulated the young plants from the cold.
If temperatures drop to dangerously low levels and there is no snow for protection, the wheat plants' only defense against the night-time cold is solar heat stored in the soil during the day.
Today's high temperature of 48 degrees was recorded at 7 a.m., when the mercury began falling. Temperatures were expected to continue falling throughout the day toward tonight's near-record cold mark, Foster said. Record cold temperatures for this time of year are mostly in the low-20s, according to weather records.
Friday's high temperature is not expected to get past the 40-degree mark and Saturday's high is expected to hit only 50 degrees under mostly sunny skies, Foster said.
WARMER WEATHER is expected this weekend with a chance of rain Sunday and Monday, according to the National Weather Service in Topeka. Highs are expected to be in the upper 40s to mid-50s Saturday and in the 60s by Monday. Lows in the 20s are expected Saturday before warming to the 40s on Monday.