Ol’ Man Winter just can’t seem to find an exit.
After a threat of a rare March snowstorm that did not pan out this past weekend, meteorologists are expecting an even rarer blast of cold Arctic air to invade the Cumberlands this week, resulting in a damaging deep freeze Wednesday and Thursday mornings.
While the cold air is not expected to threaten established temperature records for the middle of March, meteorologists said the Arctic air mass will nonetheless be rare for a late-season cold snap. Adding injury to insult, a milder-than-average winter has the growing and blooming process ahead of schedule, which will make this week’s hard freezes damaging to tender vegetation and result in losses to this year’s fruit crops.
The National Weather Service’s forecast for Oneida, as of Monday, called for temperatures to drop to 18 degrees by Wednesday morning, and to 16 degrees by Thursday morning, after a high of just 33 degrees Wednesday afternoon.
The average temperature this time of year is a low of 32 in the morning and a high of 58 in the afternoon.
The record low temperature for Wednesday is -3 degrees, set in 1993, in the aftermath of the Blizzard of ’93. The record low for Thursday is 11 degrees, set in 1970.
Already, the anticipated cold snap has drawn comparisons to 2007, when an Easter weekend freeze resulted in significant damage across the region. While this week’s temperatures are expected to be on the same scale as that freeze a decade ago, experts say there are notable differences: the Easter weekend cold snap occurred in April, about three weeks further into spring, and foliage was much more advanced.
While trees across the Cumberland Plateau have not leafed out, many of the blooming varieties are on the verge of blooming.
In particular, many fruit trees are beginning to bloom, including peach and pear, while other varieties — such as apple and cherry — are fully budded. According to a chart prepared by Michigan State University, peaches that are at the first bloom stage will suffer a 90 percent fruit kill rate if the temperature is below 21 degrees for 30 minutes. For pears, that temperature drops to 19 degrees.
Beyond this week, meteorologists say a return to spring-like conditions appears likely. The NWS’s Climate Prediction Center’s forecast for days six-10 and days eight-14, issued Sunday, called for above-average temperatures across Tennessee for those periods.