Temperatures overnight may have dropped below freezing at various recording stations around South Jersey, but some farmers say their crops survived through the cold relatively unharmed.
Anthony DiMeo III, owner of DiMeo Fruits Farms in Hammonton, said he had a relatively sleepless night, but when he checked the temperature gauges this morning by the blueberry fields, there was a lot of relief. “It was only about 34 (degrees,” he said. “Nothing was showing. Just a light frost. It wasn’t as severe as we all thought it would be.”
The State Department of Environmental Quality announced Monday evening that it would allow farmers to use open burning and “smudge pots” in fields as a way to help lessen the effects of cold temperatures.
Crops and other plants are at an unusual risk of freeze damage this season because the growth is much farther along than it typically is for this time of year, namely because of the warm winter and unusually mild early spring.
DiMeo said he usually uses a misting and irrigation system to spray water on the plants as the temperature drops as a way to encase the delicate flowers and nubs in ice, insulating them from the freezing temperature. But when workers went into the fields, no ice had formed over night.
The low temperature at Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township fell to 29 degrees, with temperatures at subfreezing levels for about three hours in the early morning hours, according to the National Weather Service. However, winds were blowing between 10 and 20 mph overnight, which may have helped mitigate the temperatures closest to the ground. A freeze warning was in effect until 9 a.m.
Very dry air and continued breezy conditions, along with increasingly dry soils have prompted the National Weather Service to issue a red flag warning again today, warning that conditions are ripe for wildfires, if set, to spread rapidly. Ongoing dryness also has led the U.S. Drought Monitor to list the entire state of New Jersey as having abnormally dry conditions, which is the first of five rankings on the drought scale.
DiMeo’s more immediate concern, he said, is the possibility of nighttime temperatures dropping below freezing during the next couple of weeks.
“If we can get through the next couple of weeks, we’ll be fine. I just feel more comfortable when we get into the second week of April, we get through the danger zone,” DiMeo said. Until then, he said, “we sleep with one eye open and one finger on the start button for the irrigation pump.”