Janesville21.2°

Unseasonable weather has confused plants, but winter is on its way

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January 11, 2012

Here's an updated forecast: Continuing weird with a chance of unnaturally warm until late Wednesday night.


Then, winteróactual winter, with snow and coldówill begin. The National Weather Service is predicting between 5 and 6 inches of snow in a 30-hour period between Wednesday night and early Friday morning.


Sure, Jan. 12 is a little bit late for winter to start, but better late than not at all, especially if you're a skier, snowboarder or horticultural manager.


The first two are dying to get outside into some real snow.


The third is worried that unless we get snow and cold soon, plants will start dying.


Mark Dwyer, horticulture manager for Rotary Botanical Gardens, wants snow and cold as soon as possible.


"What we're observing are the earliest spring bulbs and the early spring perennials are starting to emerge," Dwyer said. "It looks like March 15th out there."


Bulbs such as winter aconites and snowdrops are peeping out of the soil and forming buds.


"We've also observed the start of bud swelling on red maples," Dwyer said.


Dwyer said he's not worried, at least not yet.


"The best thing that could happen is that we would get cold temperatures and insulating snow," Dwyer said.


Snow insulates the ground, helping to keep it frozen and protecting plants. Secondly, snow provides moisture for spring growth.


What can homeowners do?


"There's really not much you can do," Dwyer said. "If we return to cold temperatures and don't get snow, people might want to consider putting a thin layer of mulch over the ground as an insulator."


Just how unusual has this winter been?


According to Gazette weather records dating to 1948, December and January's high temperatures haven't set any records.


Between Dec. 1 and Jan. 10, temperatures were below the average on six days, or about 15 percent of the time.


Temperatures neared record-breaking on two days:


-- Dec. 14, when the high was 54 degrees. The record is 58.


-- Jan. 5, when the high was 50 degrees. The record is 51.


What's in store for the next few days?


The National Weather Service in Sullivan predicts "quiet weather through Wednesday as we await the arrival of a low pressure system bringing widespread snow to the area late Wednesday night through Friday."


Snow will come courtesy of a "large digging polar trough," according to the National Weather Service.


"That's an elongated area of low pressure," explained Ed Townsend, meteorologist for the weather service.



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