On the first day of spring, cool temperatures persist, but ISU meteorology professor says it is just ‘average’

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Bill Gallus Punxsutawney Phil

Punxsutawney Phil, that Prognosticator of Prognosticators, was wrong. The groundhog didn’t see his shadow back on Feb. 2, but there have been no signs of an early spring, either.

On March 20 – the first day of spring – meteorologists said the temperature would reach a chilly 30 degrees. By the weekend, we could see another dusting of snow. For those of us who forwent a spring break vacation, it’s easy to sulk – especially considering it was in the 80s at this time last year.

On frosty days like these, Bill Gallus, professor of meteorology at Iowa State University, says to remember that not every spring is a warm one.

“It’s Iowa, so there is no such thing as ‘normal,’” he said. “We can talk about what is ‘average,’ but what is ‘normal’ is a different question.”

Gallus said an average spring temperature in Iowa is around 50 degrees. Last year, most of March was in the 70s and 80s, so this year’s cool temps are just averaging our typical temperature.

The meteorology program is an academic unit in Iowa State’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The silver lining to the undesirable weather is that cooler temps keep snow on the ground, which helps keep moisture in the ground, which helps things grow. Last year, when the temperatures rose quickly, grass and plants began to grow early, kicking off what would be a very dry summer.

“Last year, things started growing and sucking water out of the ground,” Gallus said, who remembers mowing his grass twice last March. “Things were growing so fast that it dried out the soil early in the spring. So being cold for a little longer definitely helps, because nothing is using water yet.”

Gallus said he hopes the weather will warm up soon, however, and not just for comfort.

“The longer a cold spell lasts, the more farmers panic. If we warm up late, they’ll have to do everything in the field in a very short time,” he said, adding that farmers and gardeners typically try to have everything planted by April, which is just 10 days away. If we have a quick warm up that encourages what is left of the snow to melt into the ground, it would be great for growers.

Although the forecast is calling for about another week of cold weather, warmer temps and precipitation this spring will help steer us away from another hot, dry summer. Still, Gallus said even if we had the wettest April and May on record, the ground would still be water-deprived.

“In short, it will almost take a miracle to reverse the damage the drought caused last year,” he said.

The amount of snowfall we had this winter wasn’t enough to combat the dry ground from last year. The first big storm we experienced in late December was the only precipitation that did any immediate good, since the ground wasn’t frozen yet and could absorb the melting snow. Now, the rain and snow are running off into rivers and streams because the ground is still frozen.

So what does this mean for the rest of the year? Gallus said at the moment, there are no good correlations to predict a cool, hot or wet summer.

“If we had an El Nino or La Nina in the Pacific, we could make predictions on a wet or dry growing season,” he said. “Right now, things are neutral, so we really can’t predict what the big picture will look like just yet.”

So for now, we’ll just enjoy the (chilly) sunshine. -30-

About Liberal Arts and Sciences The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is a world-class learning and research community. Iowa State’s most academically diverse college, LAS educates students to become global citizens, providing rigorous academic programs in the sciences, humanities and social sciences within a supportive personalized learning environment. College faculty design new materials, unravel biological structures, care for the environment, and explore social and behavioral issues. From fundamental research to technology transfer and artistic expression, the college supports people in Iowa and around the world.

NEWS RELEASE College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Iowa State University

Contacts: William Gallus, Atmospheric Sciences, (515) 294-2270, wgallus@iastate.edu Jess Knight, Liberal Arts & Sciences Communication, (515) 294-9906, jeknight@iastate.edu