Has spring sprung? The calendar says NO! It’s February 21st. But what does the calendar know? Oklahoma’s plants and weather tell us that spring’s onset has begun. These iris are under a heavy mulch of leaves and in a low light area. That hasn’t slowed their emergence. Picture taken February 21, 2017 in Chickasha, OK.
January was a month of surprises! We froze from some of the coldest temperatures we’ve seen since 2011, then ended the month basking in spring-like, warm weather.
For January, the departure from Oklahoma Mesonet‘s 15-year average air temperatures ranged from 5 degrees above average in the Northeast and Southeast to 1 degree below average at Kenton in the Panhandle. The majority of winter wheat and canola fields were in areas that came in at 1-2 degrees above average.
What did you think of 2016? Was it a hot year? A cooler than average year? Would you believe that the summer was close to average?
Where the heat really came in was the spring and fall. Those were the seasons that climbed way above average.
For the year, 2016 was slightly warmer than the long-term 15-year Oklahoma Mesonet average from 2001-2015. Putnam and Minco were the warmest locations at 3 degrees above their average air temperatures. Most of the eastern side of Oklahoma was 2 degrees above average. In the west, most Mesonet sites were 1 degree above average.
October followed a warm September with above average temperatures. Unfortunately, what was below average in October were our rainfall totals.
Looking back at October, our average air temperatures for the month were 4 to 7 degrees above average. Northern and central sections of the state, the yellow-orange areas, had the largest departure from the Oklahoma Mesonet Long-term 15-year average (2001-2015).
Farmers roll the dice every year when they plant. Remember back to all those rains in May. Those rains came right when it was time to get summer crops like cotton, sorghum, sesame, peanuts, watermelons, and okra planted. No worries about late planting a crop like okra, since it’s harvested continuously as young pods. For all of the other crops, late planting is a gamble with fall weather and crop maturity.
March is a critical month in Oklahoma. It is the month when wheat and canola come out of dormancy. It’s the month when the risk of wildfires is highest (Weir, Reid, & Fuhlendorf, 2012). Temperatures and moisture in March set the tone for our crops and rangeland. March was cooler and wetter in the east, southeast, and south central regions. It was warmer and dryer in the Panhandle, west, and north central areas. Interstate-44 was the approximate dividing line. The following map shows the departure in average temperatures for March 2015 from Oklahoma Mesonet’s long-term 15-year averages (1990 to 2014).
So when does fall begin? From a farming, ranching, gardening standpoint, it’s when air temperatures drop into mild ranges and water demand tapers off. It’s when plants respond with their fall flush of growth. Animals respond by playing more. Livestock gain more. And the kids quit asking if we’re there yet!
If we just consider minimum air temperature as a season mark, we could turn to a long-term averages graph for our dates. This graph from Minco, in central Oklahoma, has two orange lines that highlight the average dates when the minimum air temperature crosses 60 degrees F. We could use these to mark the beginning of summer and the beginning of fall.