Wilted blooms cling to a pink dogwood in the aftermath of a damaging hard freeze in April 2007. (Independent Herald file photo)
Wilted blooms cling to a pink dogwood in the aftermath of a damaging hard freeze in April 2007. (Independent Herald file photo)

No sooner has spring finally reached full bloom across the northern Cumberland Plateau than is it being threatened by mother nature.

The National Weather Service's Morristown field office warned this morning that a "widespread hard and killing freeze" is likely Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, as it issued a freeze watch for Scott County and all of East Tennessee.

Of particular concern are fruit trees. Apple, pear and other fruit varieties that supplement growers' pantries and income are near or just past peak bloom across the region, and the level of freezing temperatures being forecast Wednesday morning could prove devastating to this year's fruit crop.

According to Jeremy West, the University of Tennessee's Agriculture Extension director in Scott County, growers can expect 10 percent bloom loss from temperatures that reach 28 degrees for two hours. At 26 degrees for two hours, however, 90 percent bloom loss is expected.

"Any temperature under 26 degrees can expect total loss (of blooms)," West said.

The NWS's forecast for Tuesday night is 24 degrees in Oneida and Huntsville. With brisk northerly winds pushing in the unusually cold air mass through the day on Tuesday, temperatures are expected to plummet soon after the clouds clear out just after sunset on Tuesday. The NWS's freeze watch takes affect at 10 p.m. Tuesday evening and does not expire until 10 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Unlike frost, when growers can typically protect their plants, West said there are not many options when a hard freeze threatens.

"You may be able to cover a small fruit tree and maintain a slightly higher temp," West said. "However, if the covering touches the blooms and new leafs it will cause burn. It's kind of a hard thing to accomplish."

The record low in Oneida for April 16 is 28 degrees. If temperatures do in fact drop below 28 degrees Wednesday night into Tuesday morning, it will be the latest hard freeze in this region since the infamous Easter weekend freeze in 2007, which proved devastating for plant life.

Since 1950, there have only been four years with a later hard freeze than April 16 in Oneida, none since 2002.

The National Weather Service's forecast calls for temperatures to drop to 34 on Thursday morning, with frost a possibility.