National Climatic Data Center (NCDC)

Easter Freeze of 2007: analysis by the National Climatic Data Center


Courtesy of National Climatic Data Center (NCDC)

Unseasonably warm weather in March 2007 over the eastern half of the United States prompted early growth of many agricultural and horticultural crops, ranging from wheat in the Central Plains to fruit trees and pastures across the Southeast and parts of the Midwest. March monthly temperatures averaged between 2 and 6°F above normal in these areas, and this was the second warmest March on record for the entire US.

Arctic cold followed in early April with over 1500 weather stations breaking or matching record low temperatures. The magnitude and duration of the cold temperatures was particularly noteworthy in a climatological sense. Low temperatures in the teens occurred throughout the eastern half of the country, and freezing temperatures lasted almost a week in some areas. The duration of the cold combined with strong winds hindered efforts to take freeze protection measures for high value horticultural crops.

Agricultural and horticultural crops which started premature spring growth due to the warm March were thus highly susceptible to the freezing temperatures. Freeze damage was reported in nearly every state from Colorado and Oklahoma east to Virginia and Georgia. Preliminary damage estimates indicate total freeze-related losses will exceed the 2 billion dollar mark, though subsequent drought, especially in the Southeast, also negatively impacted crops causing additional losses.

The National Weather Service provided advance warning of the Arctic freeze. The first indication of freeze potential in Climate Prediction Center products occurred in the 6-10 day issuance on March 29 and the U.S. Hazards Assessment on March 30. National Digital Forecast Database verification indicated forecasts made 6 days prior to the one of the coldest days of the freeze did not reflect the cold outbreak (April 1 forecast for April 7), though 3-day forecasts were very good. Text products such as the Hazardous Weather Outlook, Area Forecast Discussion, and Freeze Warnings were assessed in Central Region and provided timely information. In addition, special efforts were made to utilize web pages and media contacts to insure the broadest possible dissemination of the threat.

Findings from a survey of Central Region Warning and Forecast Offices indicate services could be improved by establishing and utilizing closer ties with University Extension Service specialists and USDA field offices. Specifically, input from University Extension Service specialists should be used to determine the need for Freeze/Frost products each season, not solely calendar dates or climatology. Second, USDA field offices, in particular the Farm Services Agency, can be an excellent source of impact information for regional reports and Storm Data.

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