“That groundhog must have something funny in his Kool-aid.”
Such was the sentiment of Traycee Wilkerson on Tuesday as she was out shopping in Elizabethtown for fertilizer for her yard.
On Feb. 2, groundhogs around the country prognosticated six more weeks of winter, prompting many social media users of the same mind as Wilkerson to query, “More winter? When did it ever begin?”
For the fans of Jack Frost, there’s reason for disappointment. Usually the area’s coldest month, January rolled in with 67-degree temperatures and out with even warmer temps — 75 degrees on Jan. 31. And February has been more lamb-like than its neighbor is known for being on its exit.
According to the National Weather Service in Wilmington, in fact, there have only been 13 days since the beginning of the year with high temperatures below 60 degrees, and all but two of those had highs in the 50s. Area residents have seen more days with early-summer-reminiscent highs in the 70s than days with true winter peaks.
“I’ve already got my flip-flops out, got my feet prettied up — I’m ready for summer. Bring. It. On,” said Wilkerson, showing off her palm-tree-and-sunset-painted toes.
If beach bums and lake lovers are already envisioning boat rides and sand between their toes, at least one group doesn’t share their affinity for winter warmth.
“A lot of blueberries are starting to bloom prematurely, and when you get an early bloom, you always have a chance of frost coming in,” said Chris Tatum, executive director for Bladen County Farm Services Agency. “And blueberry bushes in this part of North Carolina need to have a certain amount of chilling hours, or chilling units, to produce a proper berry. If they don’t get the right amount — and that’s based on the variety — it doesn’t produce as solid a fruit as they would want for the market.”
He added, “We have more producers than anywhere in the state, and they’re very particular in terms of quality.”
Though the weather may not be ideal for blueberry growers, for other farmers, it’s exactly they ordered.
“It’s kind of a good thing for the row crop farmers, because they’re able to get ahead of the game,” explained Tatum. “Not so much because it’s warm, but because it’s so dry. Right now, the the lack of rain is enabling farmers to get in the field with lime and fertilizer and cut back ditches and banks.”
If Mother Nature is trying to pull one over on area residents, most people aren’t fooled. Neither Tractor Supply nor Feed & Garden Center in Elizabethtown is seeing an unusual number of people getting an early start on gardens or yard work.
“My customers are being really patient,” said Sarah Williamson, with Feed & Garden Center. “They usually wait until Good Friday, and it seems like they’re still doing it this year.”
The Bladen County Cooperative Extension added a word of caution about getting ahead of the game.
“Despite the warm temperatures, this is not the right time to be planting grass seed or a summer garden,” said Nancy Olsen, Assistant Extension Agent for Home Horticulture. “I don’t read the Farmer’s Almanac, but I do know it says there’s a hard frost coming in March. Planting anything is a gamble.”
The National Weather Service in Wilmington is calling for temperatures to rise to the 70s early in the week before reaching near 80 on Wednesday. The Farmer’s Almanac lists mid-March as one of the most likely times for snow, and cooler-than-normal temperatures and below normal rainfall in April and May.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.