Flip-Flop Weather

The title is not about rubber sandals, although we’ve already had a few days when that attire would not have been inappropriate. I’m referring to the up-and-down weather swings that increasingly characterize the winter-to-spring transition here in central North Carolina.

Our last snow was on January 29, when we got a light dusting that melted a few hours after this sunrise photo was taken. The week before, we got three inches of snow that stuck around for a few days. January was an unusually relentlessly cold month.

A meteorological switch flipped at the beginning of February. Temperatures soared, ground thawed, daffodils and crocus bloomed with abandon, and the local bird population began territorial displays and nesting site inspections.

I started getting nervous, because I’ve been gardening in these parts plenty long enough to know a hard freeze was nearly inevitable. I walked around the yard exhorting swelling buds to slow down, reminding them that the average last freeze date is mid-April. Alas, I was ignored as sap rose, bird song filled the air, and the sweet fragrance of blooming witch hazels — plants adapted for late-winter blooming — perfumed the air.

Of course, part of the problem is that I long ago planted some lovely early bloomers that are not native to my area. Royal Stars magnolia (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Stars’) is a gorgeous Asian species with precocious blooms that get at least partially freeze-fried nearly every year. Overnight, gorgeous white petals emitting soft perfume become brown papery blobs. Here are before and after shots of the entire tree.

Another magnolia that gets fried is a cultivar called Butterflies. Its bright yellow blooms are frequently browned by late freezes. This year, the flowers didn’t even get a chance to fully open. But they were open just enough to be vulnerable to one 19-degree night a week or so ago. Here are their sad before and after photos.

This transitional moment is not without visual rewards. Now, just before the canopy trees leaf out and obscure the eastern horizon, I savor every sunrise that paints the morning sky.

Those dawn pastels have been obscured lately, though, as we flip-flop from cold to warm to cold to now wet. Very wet. In the last two weeks, our rain gauge has recorded about 4.5 inches of rain. The last two inches fell last night. The adjacent creek poured over its banks and onto floodplains on either side. As darkness fell this evening, the water had not receded.

This morning’s view of the creek.

Even the floods have their up side. At noon today, we watched five Canada geese take turns riding down a rapidly flowing overflow channel on our floodplain. They would jump in beside the channel’s intersection with the creek, then float happily down the channel until it grew too shallow to float them further. Spring peepers and cricket frogs sing at deafening levels night and day, insisting that it is time to procreate.

I may find these wild weather swings distressing, but the native flora and fauna  are undeterred. I’m thinking there’s a lesson for me in all this. I can’t let a bit of flip-flopping get me down.

 

 

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  1. #1 by tonytomeo on March 17, 2022 - 11:43 pm

    Oh cuss! Hey, it happens even in our climate with apricot blossoms. The orchards sometimes had bad years. I am not at home right now, but am in a region where frost can damage apple blossoms! Gee, that seems too cool and too late!

    • #2 by piedmontgardener on March 18, 2022 - 6:10 am

      Welcome, Tony! This older gardener remembers a killing freeze in late April about 20 years ago that killed the young leaves of all the canopy trees. I called it the Black Spring. The trees managed to push out new sets of leaves by June, thank goodness. But it was a very hot early summer with no shady nooks to hide beneath. I imagine many neighborhood nestling birds died that year, when parents could find no caterpillars because the leaves had died. And yet, we persist! 🙂

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