Abnormal is the new normal.
That is my new catchphrase. Actually, I’ve been using it for quite some time, and now that I think about it, it really hasn’t caught on.
Perhaps, I need to rethink my catchphrase.
But when it comes to the 2014 climatic year and growing season, it tends to fit. Anymore, there really doesn’t ever seem to be a set pattern – a pattern of the seasons, of the precipitation, of the temperatures or even the last and first frost.
When I was just a wee little one, growing up in the hinterland that is called Highland Avenue of Tupperware Heights, we always seemed to have a cold and snowy start to the winter, a couple months of dryness, then big storms rolling in during March. Come the Fourth of July, the monsoon season would start, we would get consistent afternoon storms for weeks on end, and then it would usually freeze sometime in late September.
I remember jumping (elementary school age) and sledding (junior high age) off the roof of the house, driveways that resembled tunnels and walks to school that felt like I was a member of Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to Antarctica. However, in 12 years of schooling in Durango, I can only recall one day of school being cancelled.
Oh, the irony.
So last winter was quite the departure from those winters of the late 1970s and early ’80s. After two bitterly cold weeks to start off the month of December, we never reached below zero again in Durango. It is not uncommon for the cold to last through January or February, but that did not happen in 2014. January was otherwise balmy with an average high temperature of 45 degrees (My dad wears shorts when it’s 45 degrees!), and February was no colder with an average high of 48 degrees. Heck, it reached 60 twice in February. Neither month had much in the way of snowfall, either, with a total of 0.44 inches of precipitation.
If you are a plant (or a skier) you may be mightily confused. Consistently elevated temperatures and a lack of moisture can lead to an early breaking of dormancy. In other words, plants come out of their slumber sooner than expected. If temperatures were to drop significantly after this extended period, they could incur damage to roots and vascular tissue. But fortunately, in 2014, temperatures never really dropped.
Then April and May rolled around, and while nights were never bitterly cold, consistent minimum temperatures in the low to mid-20s sure had their effect on our local fruit trees. Most likely coupled with trees that already were stressed by the lack of winter moisture, hours of cold temperatures froze buds and blooms of apricot, peach, pear, plum, cherry and apple trees, resulting in a fall harvest season with very little to harvest. Good news for bear-human interaction; bad news for fruit-human-smile-juice-running-down-chin interaction.
Because I have been peripherally watching apple yields in the area during the past eight years, I have never seen trees this bare throughout the area. To see the honey-hole – Hermosa Creek drainage – with the limited amount of fruit on the trees as we had this year was a depressing sight.
What about the last frost in the spring? We tend to send the final frost sometime toward the end of May or the first part of June, but what about this year? On June 15, we saw temperatures as low as 29 here in town. (Remember: Abnormal is the new normal.) And, in typical June conditions, the next day reached 81 degrees, a swing of 52 degrees. A note to all you gardeners: Plants don’t like swings of 52 degrees.
Then the rains came. 1.3 inches in July; 1.9 inches in August; 3.6 inches in September and 1.1 inches in October. Glorious! I hope many of you turned off the lawn sprinklers and actually saved a dollar or two as consistent precipitation throughout the season is somewhat of a rarity. The deathblow came the first week of October, as temperatures hovered around freezing for a number of nights.
June 15 to Oct. 3: A growing season of 110 days.
Which, in all honesty, is about normal.
email@example.com or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.