Archived Story

Big chill

Published 12:49pm Tuesday, March 26, 2013

By Ed Bailey, Outlook Sports Editor

Below-freezing temperatures overnight could have effect on pipes, budding plants

With a freeze warning in effect for Tallapoosa County and surrounding areas, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) is urging locals to take necessary precautions.

Aaron Gleason, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Birmingham, said freezing temperatures are expected to last into Wednesday morning. Temperatures are forecasted to get as low as 28-31 degrees.

“We’re expecting freezing conditions from Tuesday night into Wednesday morning,” Gleason said. “These conditions will affect a large portion of Central Alabama.”

Gleason added that temperatures are expected to warm by Wednesday evening.

“Central and South Alabama should be experiencing temperatures above freezing by Wednesday night,” he said.

In addition, wind speeds are expected to sustain at 15-25 miles per hour, with wind gusts up to 35 miles per hour.

The colder temperatures could cause pipe damage in the form of freezing water, and it is recommended that faucets are left dripping, pipes are wrapped to help with insulation and that cabinets are left open to allow warmer air to circulate toward the pipes.

According to ACES Tallapoosa County Extension Coordinator Shane Harris, the low temperatures during the next 36 hours could be especially damaging to plants and fruits that flower during the spring season.

“Flowers that are still tightly budded will likely be OK,” Harris said. “But those plants that are sprouting tender leaves and fruits could be killed. They’re at their most susceptible when they’re early in the blossoming stage.”

According to Harris, data has indicated that on average, the last frost for the Tallapoosa County region occurs anywhere from April 5-10. He added that in recent years, the last frost had occurred a little bit earlier.

“I don’t know if this is winter’s last hurrah or not,” Harris said. “But we’ve had a lot of people buy tender plants, and we want to keep in mind that we need to protect them.”

The ACES has suggested plant coverings as a way to guard against cold weather damage but noted that the foliage should not come into contact with the covering, as it could be damaged via the transfer of heat from the plant to the colder cover.

Harris said that other measures would need to be taken for plants not as adapted to colder conditions.

“For those who have sensitive plants, you’d want to bring those inside,” Harris said. “It’s the same for potted plants, as their roots aren’t as insulated. For the other plants, you can cover them with a blanket or milk jugs.”

According to Harris, guarding fruits and orchards is a bit more difficult.

“In those cases, I’ve heard of people using irrigation and heaters to limit the cold damage,” he said. “You have to do what you can to keep the damage as minimal as possible.”

In addition to plant coverings, Harris said providing insulation for the plant beds in the form of mulch could have a significant impact on limiting the negative effects of the cold.

“Covering the plants is the most logical and easiest solution, but insulation can help, too,” Harris said. “You want to trap any of the heat absorbed by the plants during the day. The heat that plants take in from the sun during the day is released at night. If you trap it, it creates a bit of a mini greenhouse for the plant and allows it to stay a little warmer. If you can raise the temperatures up just a little bit, you can minimize the damage. There’s a big difference between 30 degrees and 32 degrees.”

Harris said ultimately anything gardeners and homeowners with plants are able to do to safeguard their plants is a step in the right direction.

“We have spells like this, and some are worse than others,” he said. “But any protection is better than none.”