Hard freeze could hurt crops
Friday, April 18, 2014 1:23 PM
A fast-moving cold front brought snow to the Texas Panhandle, hail to the central part of the state and an official hard freeze to Terry County early Tuesday morning, which could have ramifications for area crops.
Ron McQueen, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Lubbock, says temperatures Sunday in West Texas were in the 80s, but then plummeted into the evening. A half-inch of snow fell on Amarillo and other areas.
Some flurries were seen in Brownfield Monday morning, but there was no accumulation.
Locally, temperatures reached a high of 84 degrees on Sunday afternoon -- according to weather observations recorded by the Texas Tech University Mesonet weather monitoring system -- before plummeting to a low of 30 degrees early Monday morning.
Tuesday was Tax Day and as the thermometer dropped even further, for area grape growers, it was taxing indeed.
AgriLife Extension Agent Scott Russell told the Brownfield News that he saw temperature readings well below the freezing mark.
“It was a hard freeze,” he said. “In parts of the county, around 4 a.m. it was below 27 degrees and I saw fluctuations as low as 24 degrees.”
Temperatures on Tuesday reached a high of 64 degrees in the wake of the passing front.
Russell said April 15 is the average date of the last freeze for Terry County, so he is hopeful temps won’t drop to dangerous levels again this Spring.
Grape vines can produce three buds in a growing season, with the first bud producing the best crop.
If local vines lose that bud after this freeze, they will put on a secondary bud, then a third if necessary.
In 2013, there was one freeze a week through the month of April, which got all three buds and devastated local vineyards, even killing some vines down to the root.
After Monday’s early morning freeze, damage will vary in intensity around the county and depending on what variety of grapes are planted.
Whites bud out earlier and will be hit harder than reds, which mature slightly later.
“I’ve seen messages from growers predicting anywhere between 25 percent damage to 80 percent,” Russell said. “With just one late freeze, we’ll have secondary buds which isn’t as good as the first but they can still have a better year than last year.”
The agent said the chance of another freeze diminishes with each passing day in April.
Cliff Bingham, one of the largest vineyard operators in the state told the News that the freeze hit some of his vines hard near Meadow.
“We didn’t fare real good,” he said. “A rough estimate is that we lost about 40 percent of the total crop, but some varieties didn’t lose any at all.”
Some local growers tried to fight Mother Nature through the coldest hours by burning hay between vineyard rows.
Russell said some growers felt like they did some good
The smell of smoke was prevalent around the county early Tuesday morning.
Bingham said his vineyard encompasses too many acres to attempt that tactic.
Russell said wheat is another crop that could have been damaged by the hard freeze.
“It’s still too early to tell, but it could have been severely damaged if the wheat was in bloom or heading out,” he said. “We won’t be able to tell until next week.”
He said the frigid temps could also have hit local fruit and nut trees.
“I looked at some pecan trees and it looked like that first flush of pollen and the male flower structures were shriveled and dead.”
The agent said low temps hurt plants because the liquid in the cells of new growth freezes and ruptures the cell walls, which burst and kills tissue.
Spring weather was active across the Lone Star State because of the system that brought cooler temps to the South Plains.
Strong thunderstorms and hail moved through Central Texas earlier in the week extending into the Houston area. The Dallas and San Antonio areas saw temperatures drop into the 40s.
Much of the state warmed up Tuesday before another cold front moved in Thursday.
Friday morning in Brownfield was chilly with light mist.
At press time there was still no measurable moisture in the area.