By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
MEMPHIS – With a second consecutive warmer-than-average winter, the Mid-South has set a new record for the longest streak of low temperatures above the teens.
As measured at the National Weather Service’s office at Memphis International Airport, the region has gone 719 days as of this morning without reaching below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
The last time the recorded temperature was in the teens was Feb. 11, 2011. Previous records were set in the 1880s and the 1920s.
Historical average lowest winter temperature for Memphis and surrounding areas puts the region in USDA Zone 7a and 7b, with coldest days that usually bottom out at 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
“We do have another cold front coming this week, and then another early next week, but we had a strong cold front recently, and it didn’t get us below 20,” said Danny Gant of the National Weather Service in Memphis.
Gant said because January traditionally is the region’s coldest month, the chances of breaking the streak are “looking more and more slim every day that passes.”
Many residents presumably enjoy back-to-back mild winters for the chance to be outside more, to deal with less snow and ice and to spend less money on heating. It can be a boon for home landscapers, too.
“From an ornamental standpoint, it generally expands the range of plant material to choose from,” said Patricia Knight, Mississippi State University extension horticulturist. “There can be heat tolerance issues with some ornamentals, but it’s more of a summer problem.”
Winters without normal levels of cold aren’t altogether without a downside, especially when they warm up too soon.
“People said last year’s winter was mild, but we were cold Nov. 2011 through Feb. 2012,” said Jeff Wilson, another MSU extension horticulturist. “What had people thinking it was a really warm winter was that in early to mid-February, it got warm and stayed warm.
“More mild temperatures cause some plants to bloom early, and then we get a late freeze, which is a problem,” Wilson said. “We had a blackberry grower last year who had 10 acres of plants in bloom get frozen, and he didn’t have a crop.”
Lesser demand for propane and firewood disappoints sellers of those heating commodities, but the burst pipes that come with serious cold are a seasonal income that plumbers haven’t enjoyed much lately.
“We’ve seen nothing weather-related to this date,” said Jim Renick, owner of Renick Plumbing in Tupelo. “Last year was pretty mild, too.”
Renick admits he doesn’t miss the muddy, wet and harried nature of such cold snaps, despite the boost to his business.
“I hope we don’t see the cold weather,” he said. “People’s pipes freeze all the time, and you run crazy whenever that happens. But then, that’s part of the profession we chose.”