A chilly December should have alleviated some concerns of Southeast fruit farmers worried about chill hours in a La Nina winter, according to Pam Knox, University of Georgia Extension Agricultural Climatologist.
“If you look at the plot of chill hours over this year, November was quite warm. I think they were running way below normal in the number of chill hours. That was a real concern for the fruit farmers,” Knox said. “But with the cold outbreaks we’ve had in December and the one we saw (over Christmas), that’s really going to bring up the chill hours. I’m sure the fruit farmers are going to be happy. You always wonder about that in a La Nina year.”
It was a concern for Edgar Vinson, assistant research professor and Extension specialist in the Department of Horticulture at Auburn University. He was worried about peach producers lagging in chill hours as he projected they only had about 172 in mid-December. But with cold outbreaks, the most recent of which came last week over the Christmas holidays, it should have increased those chill hours needed to produce a crop.
Knox said that while a La Nina weather pattern is characterized by warmer temperatures and drier conditions, cold outbreaks are not uncommon.
“The thing about La Nina is, even though the winter as a whole may be warmer than normal, we’re still going to get these cold outbreaks. This definitely is not the kind of weather we expect in a La Nina, but it goes up and down a lot in the winter,” Knox said.
“Every La Nina is different, too. Even though statistically we expect it to be warmer and drier than usual, there still are outliers. It’s possible we could have a colder winter than usual, even in a La Nina, although it would be unlikely.
“It’s winter, we expect some cold weather. It’s not surprising that we should have this cold outbreak. The weather depends on what’s going on in other parts of the world. It’s not just La Nina, it’s what is going on in the Arctic and what’s going on in the oceans. It’s part of a big puzzle and we have to try to put that together. A La Nina is certainly one factor but it’s not the only factor.”