No white Christmas, mild winter ahead
by Mark Andrews
Dec 23, 2011 | 2922 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Laura Allgood runs along Pine Grove Road Thursday afternoon without the extra attire usually needed this time of year to keep warm. Local temperatures recently have been about 30 degrees above normal. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Laura Allgood runs along Pine Grove Road Thursday afternoon without the extra attire usually needed this time of year to keep warm. Local temperatures recently have been about 30 degrees above normal. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Although Thursday marked the first day of winter, the National Weather Service reported Bartow seeing a record high near 71 degrees -- the first time the temperature has reached 70 degrees since 1889.

While last year the residents of Bartow County and most southern communities experienced a white Christmas, this year the service is predicting a 40 percent chance of rain with a low of 41 on Saturday with the same prediction of rain and a high near 57 on Christmas Day.

Paul Pugliese, agriculture and natural resource extension agent for Bartow County, said these mild temperatures likely will continue during the season.

"It's going to be a mild winter and they're predicting a La Niña affect this winter," Pugliese said. "My understanding is with the La Niña affect it's going to be warmer and drier than normal. With that being said, in some ways that's better than the other extreme that's too cold or summertime temperatures."

Pugliese said if Bartow experiences a mild winter, the greatest effect would be on fruit trees.

"Certain varieties [of fruit trees] require so many hours of chill hours to bloom and set fruit on time, so if we don't get enough chill hours this winter, sometimes they will not bear or produce as many flowers the following year or they may actually be late bearers because it kind of depends on when we get those chill hours accumulated and it may be later into the spring. But, of course, there's no way of predicting how that's going to turn out either," Pugliese said.

He said with a mild winter also comes the possibility of having more insects.

"Some of our insects and pests that get knocked back in the wintertime they're still hanging on and causing problems, and so those are some of the things that may impact certain trees and shrubs," Pugliese said, adding the insects should not cause any major issues for healthy trees and shrubs.

"It's not necessarily a bad thing for our trees. If you think about it, if you lived in Florida it's more or less warm all year round so they have to deal with insects all year round. ... If you look at that, it's not going to kill our trees or hurt them, it's just we have unusual circumstances, so we're going to have lingering problems with insects and some diseases might even linger on a little bit longer this year," Pugliese said. "Whether it's turf grass, trees or shrubs, insects and diseases could be hanging on longer than usual."

He said another issue that comes with the predicted La Niña affect is drought.

"A lot of people don't think about drought in the wintertime -- we think about it during the summer because it's hot outside -- but in the wintertime we can have a winter drought. And in some ways we're seeing, in some ways, residual water shortage or drought coming into this winter," Pugliese said. "Our lake levels are down and aren't replenishing at the rate they normally would going into the winter months, so we need to be aware of that as far as water conservation. ... If we don't replenish our water resources this winter, that's going to affect everybody, your farmers, your backyard gardeners and your home, as far as water use next summer."

He said this could cause additional problems since plants and shrubs are still recovering from the heat stress and drought this summer.

"In some ways they recover over the winter time when we start getting cooler temperatures and more rainfall, but if we continue to have a water shortage, those trees and shrubs may still have drought stress even in the winter time and a lot of people don't think about that," Pugliese said. "When you really need to start worrying about that is when we go about 10 to 14 days without any significant rainfall."

He said despite last year's snowstorms, the winter temperatures, on average, were mild.

"If you look at the average daily temperature and rainfall throughout last winter, we did get that cold snap right on Christmas Day and enough to have a little bit of a white Christmas, but on average, our winter was also last year warmer and dryer than normal," Pugliese said.