Despite the springlike weather, winter’s bite could return at just about any time.
Look no further than last year when winter dumped ice and snow across North Texas in late February and early March.
For the next week or so, no wintry weather is expected, although a chance of rain will return Sunday through Tuesday along with highs dropping back to near 60 early next week.
While the long-range outlooks show no sign of winter’s return, it wouldn’t be unprecedented.
This winter has only seen a trace of snow at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport — on Dec. 28. There have been 31 other winters when only a trace of snow was recorded.
While the warm temperatures have been great for those who want to be outdoors, they could lead to problems later this year.
Here are five things to look for:
Lawn and Garden
This is probably the biggest concern for most residents.
Weeds are starting to sprout in yards. The lawn needs to be mowed, and in some cases, pre-emergent weed treatment may need to be put down. Since grasses haven’t really sprung to life yet, don’t apply weed-and-feed, said Steve Chaney, home horticulturist for the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service in Tarrant County.
“The biggest issue is if and when we get a freeze,” Chaney said. “A lot of things are budding out and flowering. If Mother Nature surprises us with a freeze, it could cause problems.”
Chaney said cold-weather plants such as pansies are struggling, while others that like warmer weather are sticking around.
“Some of the grasses are still green,” Chaney said. “A lot of the things [that] would have gone dormant, like nandinas, things like Russian sage and a lot of salvia are still out there.”
Steve McCoy, a horticulturist with Archie’s Gardenland in Fort Worth, said customers are already looking for warm-weather plants like begonias and impatiens that aren’t in stores yet. Like Chaney, he said mowing is probably a good idea, and he wouldn’t discourage those with weed-infested yards from putting down pre-emergent treatments.
“It’s been so warm, go ahead and do it even though the calender says it’s winter,” McCoy said.
If it stays warm, mosquitoes could be an issue.
“The worst West Nile season on record, in 2012, followed a very mild winter,” said Mike Merchant, a Texas A&M Agrilife urban entomologist based in Dallas.
With the mosquito-borne Zika virus grabbing headlines across Central and South America and with West Nile always a concern, should North Texans be worried?
Merchant said it’s too early to say. What happens during spring may be far more important.
2012 was kind of a perfect storm. It was very wet in the early part of spring, then it went dry. We don’t really know if that’s ideal condition or not.
Texas A&M entomologist Mike Merchant, speaking about West Nile
“2012 was kind of a perfect storm,” Merchant said. “It was very wet in the early part of spring, then it went dry. We don’t really know if that’s ideal condition or not.”
It should be noted that the Aedes aegypti mosquito carries Zika as well dengue fever and chikungunya while the Culex mosquito carries West Nile. There is some research that the Aedes albopictus, which is also common in North Texas, can carry Zika.
Among those worrying the most about this warm weather are peach growers. Peach trees are getting close to blooming, said Parker County grower Jimmy Hutton, whose family is one of the largest growers in North Texas and also owns the Ridgmar Farmers Market in west Fort Worth.
“If the warm weather keeps up, it’s probably 10 days to two weeks out,” Hutton said.
In the early stages of blooming, peaches can withstand some cold weather.
Cool, cloudy days can help slow the blooming process.
Once they pop into a full bloom, there's no going back.
Parker County peach grower Jimmy Hutton
For those who have a fruit tree at home, using shade to block the sun in the southwest can also slow the bud process down. But a late freeze this year could prove to be a problem.
“Once they pop into a full bloom, there’s no going back,” Hutton said.
In North Texas, allergies always seem to be a problem, and that will probably be true with a warm winter, said Fort Worth allergist Bob Lanier.
Those who are susceptible to tree pollen will probably have an issue in the coming weeks.
“Trees are going to be strong this year because last year’s rain was good,” Lanier said. “They are charged. We call that good biomass.”
Tree pollen is more predictable because it is associated with length of day rather than temperature.
“Grasses are going to be iffy,” Lanier said. If it is a dry spring, there will be less. If it is wet, there will be more grass pollen.
Looking back, I don't think I've ever seen a 12 month period quite like this one — going all the way back to our extremely wet spring time in May of last year.
Fort Worth allergist James Haden
Fort Worth allergist James Haden said many of his patients are suffering from symptoms related to mountain cedar right now, even as he expects the spring tree pollen to appear at any time.
“Looking back, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 12-month period quite like this one — going all the way back to our extremely wet springtime in May of last year,” Haden said.
“If the weather stays this way, I fully expect to start seeing the telltale signs of green and yellow oak and pecan pollen on our cars and on the sidewalks,” Haden said. “That’s something that normally doesn’t happen till mid-March, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it at any time now.”
Less than two months after a record-breaking year of rainfall ended, it seems kind of crazy to talk about drought. Lakes are full and memories of flooding are still fresh.
Yet the latest drought monitor shows drought creeping back into North Texas.
Abnormally dry conditions have returned to most of the western half of North Texas and some moderate drought has appeared in Lampasas and Coryell counties, west of Temple and Waco.
Despite the dry start to the year, the Climate Prediction Center’s latest one- and three-month outlooks continue to predict wetter-than-normal weather.
A strong El Niño, a naturally occurring worldwide climate phenomenon that starts with unusually warm water in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, is credited with bringing the heavy rains in November and December but is expected to weaken this spring. It could be replaced next fall by La Niña, in which cooler Pacific temperatures lead to drier conditions in North Texas.
The latest Climate Prediction Center forecast said there was a 50 percent chance of La Niña forming between September and November, which could bring a return of the drought across Texas.
Where’s the cold?
A look at some of the warm-weather numbers from the National Weather Service in Fort Worth:
- 2016: 47 degrees
- Annual: 45.9
- Record: 55.1 (2006)
- 2016: 53.2 degrees (through Thursday)
- Annual: 49.9
- Record: 58.4 (1976)
Average high temperatures
- 2016: 57.4 degrees
- Annual: 56.4
- Record: 68.3 (2006)
- 2016: 66.1 degrees (through Thursday)
- Annual: 60.4
- Record: 71.3 (1976)
Number of freeze days
- 2016: 10
- Annual: 12.1
- 2016: 3 (through Thursday)
- Annual: 6.8
- 2016: 27 degrees (Jan. 19, 23)
- Record: minus 2 (1949)
- 2016: 31 degrees (Feb. 4)
- Record: minus 8 (1899)
- 2016: 77 degrees (Jan. 29)
- Record: 93 (1911)
- 2016: 75 degrees (Feb. 11, 18)
- Record: 96 (1904)