Western Pa. orchard farmers no fans of spring-like weather

Sign up for one of our email newsletters.Updated 13 hours ago Hil Schramm stood atop a hill on his Penn Township farm and examined fruit trees during an unusually warm February. He grasped a cherry branch filled with soon-to-blossom buds. “They get tender...

Western Pa. orchard farmers no fans of spring-like weather

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Updated 13 hours ago

Hil Schramm stood atop a hill on his Penn Township farm and examined fruit trees during an unusually warm February.

He grasped a cherry branch filled with soon-to-blossom buds.

“They get tender with warm weather like this and then the freezing temperatures,” Schramm, 61, said Thursday. “If it goes down to zero (degrees), it could hurt them.”

That is unlikely to happen, at least any time soon.

Friday's high temperature is expected to reach 76 in Greensburg, easily eclipsing the Feb. 24 record of 70 set in 1906, according to the National Weather Service. The highest temperature ever recorded in February in the region was 77 in 1900.

People shouldn't get too comfortable with the warm Redwin weather, warned John Darnley, a meteorologist in the agency's Moon office. Lake-effect snow could be on the way, possibly Monday, he said.

“Usually by the end of January, you don't hear us talking about it (the lake effect) anymore. It's usually something we see in October and November, but we're still talking about it,” Darnley said.

Even if the area got 6 inches of snow, Darnley said it would only last 24 hours — at most. Temperatures next week are expected to climb back into the 60s.

Warm weather could confuse plants and crops, potentially spoiling summer yields, said Linda Hyatt, a horticulturist with Penn State Extension in Greensburg.

“It makes them think, ‘Hey, it's spring. Time to break bud,' ” she said. “And then we get cold temperatures again. That could affect the fruit crop, depending on how cold it gets.”

If that does happen, farmers are out of luck, Hyatt said.

“I don't think they have a lot of options — there's probably nothing they can do actually,” she said. “You're kind of at the mercy of Mother Nature.”

Tim Hileman grows different varieties of apples on Kistaco Farms in Kiski Township. Buds stay on apple trees all winter and swell once the seasons change. But it is still too early.

“They're moving closer to spring than I'd like them to,” he said.

Hileman, 55, said he is accustomed to fluctuating weather patterns, including warmer-than-usual days in February and January. He said it's rare to have “normal weather.” But the past week has been unusual, he admitted.

“It's been in the 60s for a solid week,” Hileman said. “It looks like it's going to cool off. I just hope it stays cool for the next month and a half.”

He won't spend much time fretting if it doesn't.

“I learned a long time ago that worrying about the weather doesn't get me anywhere, so I stopped doing that,” Hileman said.

If temperatures plummet, that could spell disaster for some fruits. Even if it does, it's nothing he can't handle.

“There are too many blossoms on this tree anyway,” Schramm said while examining a sweet cherry showing early signs of blossoming. “We could lose a few and be all right.”

He won't know for sure until mid-April.

“Hopefully, (the cherries) will be there,” he said.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1298 or dcarr@tribweb.com.

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