It is that time of year to discuss the nemesis of every gardener out there – the late spring frost or freeze. We have a full suite of maps showing the earliest, 1 in 10 years, median, 9 in 10 years, and latest frost (32 degrees) and freeze (28 degrees).
One of the things you notice about this map, and all the others in the series, is that even though the date for the last spring frost/freeze gets later the farther north you go, you can get big differences between nearby locations. The reason for that is that most of these last frosts occur during calm, clear, cold nights. As a result, subtle local features can make a big difference. For example, cold air can settle in low-lying areas, causing frost pockets. Or locations out in the countryside may be just a few degrees cooler than in town, due to warm buildings, that may make them vulnerable to a later frost. Also, keep in mind that we measure the air temperature at 5 feet above the ground while the ground and some objects may cool to lower temperatures on calm, clear nights. Therefore, you may see frost even if the temperature is reported as 34 or 35 degrees.
Personally, I use these maps as a general guide. However, I watch the latest weather forecasts closely for a few weeks after I have new plants in the ground for any surprises. The NWS does put out hard freeze warnings (temperatures at or below 28 degrees with or without frost), freeze warning (temperatures at or below 32 degrees with or without frost), and frost advisories for widespread frost.
For much of Illinois April is typically the last month that we see freezing temperatures until Fall (at least we hope). Below are the maps showing the median dates when we see 28 and 32 degrees for the last time in Spring. The median represents the middle value in the range of dates and is less sensitive than the average to unusually early or late dates.
We have more discussion and maps, including the earliest and latest dates of freezes during the 1981-2010 period on our frost webpage.
In addition you can track the status of this spring (2013) in terms of how things stand on hitting 28 and 32 degrees from the Midwestern Regional Climate Center.
Here are the median dates of the first time we hit 32 degrees in the fall. Since we don’t have reports of when frost occurs, we use 32 degrees as a proxy. It is no surprise that the frost date occurs earlier in northern Illinois than southern Illinois.
If you look closely, you may see differences of several days between neighboring sites. Nighttime temperatures, especially on calm, clear nights in the fall, can be very sensitive to the local conditions. Sites in town tend to be a little warmer than those in the countryside, and result in delaying the arrival of colder temperatures.
Chilly temperatures have already visited the northern part of the state this weekend. Mt. Carroll reported a low of 29 on September 23 and Elizabeth reported a low of 28 on September 24.
You can read more about frost and see many more maps on the state climatologist’s frost webpage.
There is an excellent article in the integrated pest management Bulletin at the University of Illinois by Emerson Nafziger about the damage of frost to corn this April and it’s impact on yield. You can read the full article at http://bulletin.ipm.illinois.edu/article.php?id=1619
Here are the low temperatures reported last week, sorted from coldest to not so coldest.