The warm, dry weather is giving local residents a break from expected severe wintry weather, and a local specialist says it is likely not causing problems with plant life as far as winter kill, although it is drying plants out.
Hill County Extension Agent Joe Broesder said warm weather in the winter can cause problems for local trees, shrubs and crops if they come out of normal winter dormancy, start growing, then experience cold temperatures again.
The warm spell the area has experienced so far — the National Weather Service reports that Havre has seen a December average temperature 10 degrees warmer than normal — is expected to continue for a week or more.
The Weather Service is predicting colder temperatures and an 80-percent chance of snow Tuesday night, but the weather is expected to go back into dry conditions with highs in the 30s and 40s through Sunday.
Expectations continue for eventual heavy snowfall and colder-than-normal temperatures with a La Niña pattern continuing in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, although the status of that pattern, and the lateness of the season, is reducing the time and amount of cold, snowy weather in the forecast.
Broesder said warm weather can cause plants to come out of dormancy, which can cause damage to the plants if freezing temperatures follow. The deciduous trees in the area are not likely to come out of dormancy at this point, although in a month or so that could start happening, he said.
Deciduous trees have to rest for a certain period over the winter before they will resume growing, and it is too early for that to start, he said.
Greater concern should be for evergreens, Broesder said. With the warm, dry temperatures, those trees are drying out and could use some watering.
Broesder said that, as long as the ground is not frozen, giving evergreens a shot of water each week will help their health immensely. He added that, although the deciduous trees would not be using water at this point while dormant, giving them some water while the ground is not frozen could help in the spring.
He said that, unfortunately, if people do see trees and shrubs starting to become active while more winter temperatures are likely, there isn’t much that can be done to protect the plants.
As far as winter wheat, which goes dormant through the winter and resumes growth in the spring, Broesder said the soil is likely still cold enough that those plants will stay in dormancy. Once the plants become active, cold weather with no insulating snow can damage the crop, sometimes severely.
Broesder said that, as long as the nights keep cooling off, with the length of the nights still much longer than the days, the soil temperature will likely keep the winter wheat dormant.
“The wind is probably the biggest culprit with winter wheat right now, ” Broesder added.