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Unseasonably warm weather causing crops to bloom early
Number of chilling hours down this winter
From November through the end of December, the area has seen nearly 20 inches of rain, according to Hall County Extension Coordinator Michael Wheeler, and unseasonably warm fall and winter weather has prompted unusual sprouting and growth in local crops.

The last few weeks of mildly cool — often warm — fall and winter weather has felt a bit strange to many. It can be disorienting walking outdoors the day after Christmas in a T-shirt or running the air conditioner in December.

But, for those who depend upon the weather in their occupations — for instance, the expectation it’s going to be hot in the summer and cold in the winter — it goes beyond a minor annoyance. At worst, it can put one’s livelihood at hazard.

Hall County Extension Coordinator Michael Wheeler said the recent patterns of unseasonably warm weather and heavy rains are problematic for area crops, but “it’s part of Mother Nature, and (local farmers) will do what they have to to get through it.”

In addition, Wheeler said from the beginning of November through the end of December, the area saw more than 20 inches of rain. The combination of heavy rains and warm weather have prompted, among other things, unusual sprouting and growth in local crops.

Ryan Willis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, said December was the wettest on record since 1998 for the Gainesville area. He also said it was the warmest December on record — ever.

During such unusual weather patterns, strange things start happening.

For instance, 12 acres of strawberry plants at Jaemor Farms in Alto have bloomed several weeks ahead of schedule.

Manager Drew Echols said other produce at the farm, like the business’ staple peach crop, could be impacted by the unique weather trend. Young peach trees, he said, “don’t like wet feet at all. A lot of times ... you really don’t know what it’s doing to the tree until spring.”

Other concerns include chilling hours — the number of hours between the temperatures of 32-45 degrees needed for a plant to go dormant and protect itself from the cold.

Echols said the peach trees at Jaemor currently need more chilling hours.

“We’re probably at about half of what we actually need at the moment,” Echols said.

Wheeler said chilling hours are a factor “we usually don’t have to worry about around here.”

He said that currently, from Oct. 1-Dec. 31, there have been 288 chilling hours. Over the past three years, the average has been 640 chilling hours per year.

“That’s a significant difference,” Wheeler said.

The silver lining to the current weather pattern is that the conditions are good for pastures, Wheeler said, because cattle are able to graze for longer.

“It’s been great, in that respect,” he said.

But overall, he added, “crops should be fine. Everything should be fine. Mother Nature builds in fail-safe systems, and even if there’s any damage from this, it will be OK overall.”

Regional events