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Flowers are blooming, bees are pollinating and power bills are falling due to an unseasonably warm January.
But Wilsonians will be trading shorts for heavy coats when Mother Nature delivers subfreezing temperatures next week.
“We’ll be looking at high temperatures instead of being about 10 to 15 degrees above normal, they will be 10 to 15 degrees below normal with highs barely reaching the low 40s or even upper 30s at times next week,” said Dan Leins, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Raleigh. “We are going to have lows in the mid- to upper 20s in some spots from Sunday night onward through a good portion of next week.”
Leins said the beginning of this January has been one of the warmest on record.
“We have had above-average temperatures every day this month except for two, when we had temperatures in the low 50s. Otherwise, we have had temperatures consistently in the 60s and 70s really for a good majority of the month,” Leins said. “When you look at the first 14 days of the month, comparing it to the first 14 days that previous Januaries have started, this is in the top 10 warmest. This is the ninth-warmest start that we have had to a January on record. Its been since 2007 since we have seen this warm a start to the month of January.”
In Wilson County, 28 acres of strawberry plants are starting to bloom at Deans Farm Market on N.C. 42.
“With this warm weather spell we have been having, the strawberries are continuing to grow, and now they are blooming lightly,” said owner James Sharp.
The plants were put in the ground in October, and in a typical winter, they go dormant in December, January and February, and then in March and April they would start growing and blooming.
“This year, they slowed down a little bit in December, but they have never gone dormant.” Sharp said. “When it does frost now, it will just kill these blooms that are here, but it will not hurt the plants. So we will just have to deal with Mother Nature and hope for a good spring.”
Sharp knows the warm spell is just temporary.
In the last several years, the berries have been arriving earlier.
“It seems like we do have them earlier, but we still have a lot of severe cold,” Sharp said. “It seems like over the last five or six years we have had to frost-protect more than we used to in March and April.”
Janie and Scott Thomas, owners of Great Gardens Nursery and Landscape on Wiggins Mill Road, said they’ve dealt with unseasonably warm winter weather, but this may be the longest stretch of warmth they can recall.
“The bad thing is plants are waking up,” Janie Thomas said.
The nursery has encore azaleas and cherry trees that are blooming.
“They are about to open. They are showing color. So all these flowers on here, they are not going to bloom in the spring,” she said. “If we get a really hard freeze, all these buds will be finished. The big concern is the plants that have the buds that are open. The flowers will be lost. Any new growth will be burned off.”
In a hard freeze, the plants will definitely die, so the Thomases may opt to bring the blooming plants indoors until the freezing weather has passed.
“The problem is, when it’s this warm, the sap comes up in the plants, especially in trees, and then if we get a hard freeze, the sap will freeze inside the plants, and then you get something called stem split,” she said. “When you have stem split, the tree or the plant shrub won’t die right away, but when you get into the warm summer months, that’s when the plants will die because they can’t take the stress. Their stems have cracks in them.”
Freezing sap is a big concern.
“Sap is going to start to flow. If we drop down well below freezing, low 20s and teens, trees can actually explode,” Scott Thomas said. “Everything inside of them freezes. Everything that starts to bud, they are done.”
Bruce Petway, a beekeeper and president of the Wilson County Beekeepers Association, said bees are supposed to be inside the hive this time of year. But this year, they’re more active.
“When they are out this time of year flying around, they are expending energy and consuming stores where traditionally, there is really nothing to gather this time of year,” Petway said. “This warm spell has got the maple trees blooming, and the dandelions are blooming too. They are bringing in a lot of pollen, but they are not bringing in a lot of nectar.”
Nectar is what bees in the larval stage need.
“They need pollen and honey to feed the brood with, and adult bees eat honey,” Petway said. “This warm weather has sort of got Mother Nature fooled.”
Maples, Petway said, aren’t supposed to start blooming until the first week in February, and they are blooming about a month ahead of time.
“I’m afraid that what’s going to happen is the queen is going to see this warm weather and the availability of fresh pollen and stuff coming in, and she is going to think spring is here,” Petway said. “She’s going to start laying, and next week when it’s going to be down in the 20s in the mornings, that’s going to put a hamper on some of the hives because they may have more brood than they have bees to cover in them in that colder weather, and you could have some hive die outs from the colder weather. That’s a genuine concern.”
ENERGY COSTS AFFECTED
Rebecca Agner, communications and marketing director for the city of Wilson, said “winter energy bills are extremely dependent on outside temperatures.”
According to Agner, heating and cooling costs account for about 40% of a typically household electric bill.
“Mild temperatures in the winter can lower winter energy costs, although it is usually very temporary and also depends on when your meter is read in relation to the weather pattern,” Agner said. “If the weather change is captured all in one billing cycle, that utility bill could be more apparent versus a household that has the warm days split over two different billing cycles.”
A decrease may be less apparent if temperatures are split over two billing cycles.
“We’ve had several unseasonably warm days in December and have had spring-like weather for the past week,” Agner said. “Wilson Energy customers may see slightly lower consumption for the warm days we had, but much cooler temperatures are coming our way, and we expect to return to normal winter energy use which will moderate the low consumption during this warm week.”
Agner said Wilson Energy customers can visit www.myusage.com to monitor their energy consumption.