Farmers wary of warm winter

February was 5.5 degrees warmer than average, triggering concerns about damage if plants bud early and then freeze.

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Last month was 5.5 degrees warmer than an average Oregon February, triggering concerns about potential damage if plants bud early and then freeze.

OSU scientists say crops are reacting to the warm weather and have bloomed three weeks early, the Portland Tribune reports.

This reality has sparked worry among blueberry farmers and orchardists.

Galen Williams, who operates Bull Run Cider in Forest Grove with an accompanying nursery, said he and business partner Peter Mulligan had to hold a large portion of their tree orders this year. The pair grows, grafts and ships varieties of apple and pear trees ideal for making ciders all over the country.

Since trees have to be transplanted while they are dormant, Williams had to rush to fill orders and ran out of time for some. “It’s too warm to ship now,” Williams said. “The roots have been growing for a while.”

Helen Van Dyke, of Hillsboro, said she is concerned about bugs that would normally be killed off by cold weather: “They’re around and I think they’re going to be a problem.”

The Portland Business Journal interviewed Jim Bernau of Willamette Valley Vineyards, who echoed the concerns of the other farmers. He said the soil needs rain to be effective and that a freeze would be devastating.

When asked for what another issue caused by the warm winter:

The jet stream is a potential challenge. Experts predict there will be an oscillation. If or when that happens, it could bring unwelcome rain when our vines are in bloom in late spring and early summer. Since vines self-pollinate, that could affect berry formation.

That’s not a bad thing for pinot noir — we drop a lot of fruit to produce better concentrations. But that’s not the case for all varieties. For pinot gris, you need yield to be able to afford to make the wine and cover your cost.

The meteorological winter ended yesterday, and it was the second-warmest on record, drawing comparisons to the conditions that caused the Dust Bowl.

A warm and dry spring is expected be next, the Statesman Journal reports.

“On one hand, the warm temperatures have made for a rather pleasant winter. On the other hand, the snowpack situation has been atrocious, and that really raises concerns for water levels in many streams later this summer,” said Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Center at Oregon State University.

How warm was this winter? Mote said that each winter month was warmer than average at almost every recording station in Oregon.  More than a hundred high temperature records were broken in Oregon – just in December. Another 114 high temperature records were broken in February. Overall, Mote said, this should go down as the second warmest winter for the Pacific Northwest, behind 1933-34 — the beginning of the Dust Bowl.

Oregon’s snowpack has also been greatly hindered by the warm winter.

Martha Pagel, shareholder (who specializes in water law) at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt was asked by the Portland Business Journal who would suffer most by the meager snowpack.

“Many of our stream systems depend on snow pack. That’s what feeds water for recreation, fish and irrigation. You’re going to have lower stream flows and that is going to create conflicts among those users,” she said.

She then described what would happen if there wasn’t enough water for everyone:

Oregon water law gives preference to first come, first served. The oldest priority base has the first right. In many cases, that would mean irrigation would be prioritized over in-stream flows because we’ve had irrigators using the system longer than we’ve protected in-stream flows. When there’s not enough water to go around, state regulators allocate it according to the rights. The system is painful but it works.

And, what does Pagel think we should do in the near term to fix the problem? “Pray for rain and a lot more snow,” she said.

In Southern Oregon, photos of the Rogue River illustrate the low water levels felt throughout the state.

Without late-season snow, Crater Lake National Park will experience about half of its previous low for snow in a winter, reports.

During an interview last week, the superintendent of Crater Lake National Park made an off-hand comment about how low the flow looked in the upper Rogue River, which starts from a spring in his park and was one of the nation’s first wild and scenic-designated rivers in 1968. The Rogue is the iconic river of southern Oregon and is known widely among river lovers the world over.

“When I look at the upper Rogue River in the Rogue Gorge, it’s as low as I’ve seen it,” Craig Ackerman, park superintendent, told me.

While the West Coast has experienced a dry and warm winter, the east side of the country has been mired by sub-zero temperatures and snow storms.

The poor weather drove retail numbers down in February, the Associated Press reports.

Retail sales fell 0.6 percent last month after a 0.8 percent decline in January, the Commerce Department said Thursday. It was the third straight retreat. Excluding the volatile categories of autos, gas, building materials and restaurants, sales were flat.

Freezing temperatures and snowstorms likely weighed on sales in February, as the bad weather kept Americans at home. In December and January, steep drops in gas prices dragged down sales. Gas station sales rose last month for the first time since May.