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Archive for Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Don’t be fooled by warm weather; this is Kansas, after all

February 1, 2006

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Few topics are as mundane as nice weather, but the recent spate of days with above-average temperatures is making vegetable gardeners sit up and take notice. Even though the planting season is still a ways off, many folks are wondering what the January heat wave will mean for spring gardens.

The answer is that it probably means nothing, but the question is fun to ponder. On Saturday, one of the cheerful, chattering weather-heads on television noted that the daily highs in the 50s he was predicting for this week were about 15 degrees above the normal temperatures for this time of year.

A person who believed this mini-sauna signaled a new phase of global warming might be thinking the warmer temperatures would continue through the year, bringing us a long and productive gardening season. The fantasy that would accompany this theory might have the gardener planting potatoes this month rather than on St. Patrick's Day and harvesting plump, juicy tomatoes in mid-June.

On the other hand, a person who has been gardening in Kansas for any length of time knows better. The recent unseasonal temperatures are merely the latest chapter in the ongoing drama that is the volatile and capricious Kansas forecast. If the Kansas weather were incarnated in human form, it would be a psychopath.

While college students were running around in shorts and flip-flops last week, I was reminded that during the first few days of February 2002 a winter storm shellacked northeast Kansas in a thick layer of ice that brought normal life to a halt for almost two days. That other extreme also is possible this time of year, and we should not forget that some of our most breathtaking winter weather has come in February and March.

Let's say, however, that moderate temperatures persist. The gardener's real concern about the mild weather this winter is that we have had little snowfall, which means we have had little snowmelt, which means we could be planting our spring gardens in drier ground than we would like. In the gardener's scheme of things, a snowy winter is a positive development. As it happens, most of northeast Kansas had less than an inch of precipitation in January, and most of that happened Saturday.

On a lark, I decided to check out the long-range forecast by consulting the pre-eminent weather oracle, The Old Farmer's Almanac, which has joined the 21st century and has a Web site (www.almanac.com), where a person more curious about this than me can even pay money to get a more extensive forecast. I settled for the gratis version and still made off with quite a bit of info.

My confidence was a bit shaken at seeing a story on the Web site about predicting weather using a pig spleen, but farmers have been planning their lives around the almanac's long-range forecasts since the late 18th century. And although the almanac's January forecast missed the recent temperature spike, who am I to scoff? The almanac's authors believe our weather fortunes are about to change, and they are the experts.

Drumroll, please: The almanac predicts that in our region - which includes eastern Kansas and Nebraska, all of Iowa and Missouri minus the southeast corner - temperatures in March, April and May will be several degrees cooler than normal. The almanac even holds out the possibility of an early April snowstorm.

So, there you have it. If the almanac is right, the late chill will delay the spring planting season. If it's wrong, we could have an uninterrupted spring that stretches back to early January. But no matter how unusual the weather seems, it will still be normal because, after all, this is Kansas.

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