Orchardists bracing for hard freeze

Jose Cervantes prunes cherry trees in an orchard east of Palisade. Orchardists in the valley are watching the temperatures in the area, with a forecast low Wednesday morning of 23 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. This early in the season, apricots and cherries are vulnerable to hard freezes.

What a tease the warm weather and abundant sunshine last weekend turned out to be.

Winter-like conditions blew into the area in a big way Monday, delivering a cold dose of springtime-in-Colorado reality. That chilly reality is expected to continue today, and into Wednesday, as weather-watchers expect low temperatures below the freezing mark both days.

By Wednesday, the local office of the National Weather Service predicts temperatures will fall to about 27 degrees near the airport — a full 40-degree drop from the highs reached on Monday. Temperatures are expected to be even lower toward Fruita.

While chilly, it doesn’t appear the region is headed for record territory. Temperatures dropped to 19 degrees back on April 10, 1999, according to local NWS forecaster Paul Frisbie.

“The surge of cold air that we were really seeing (Sunday), which was looking like it was going gangbusters—it doesn’t look as vigorous as it once did,” Frisbie said.

Previous calls for significant snowfall in the valley were revised, Frisbie said, to where forecasters believe the best chance for snow is this evening.

“It’s definitely going to be unsettled (through Wednesday),” Frisbie said.

The slow-moving system crept into town Monday afternoon, bringing gusty winds that forced the closure of the county landfill. That meant city trash crews could only collect as much trash as their trucks could carry Monday.

“If your trash was to be collected (Monday) and wasn’t, it will be collected (today) along with Tuesday’s regular route,” said city Solid Waste Supervisor Rob Laurin in a press release.

Fruit growers are especially attuned to freeze warnings this time every year, but while many have heating and wind systems at the ready to fight freezing temperatures, those methods only work when conditions are just right.

“If it is cold, overcast and blowing, we just sit and wait,” said Talbott Farms co-owner Bruce Talbott. “It is what it is, and there’s nothing that we can do.”

That was Talbott’s mindset Monday afternoon.

“We anticipate doing nothing tonight, and I’m going to guess we’ll do nothing tomorrow night,” he said. “But if we get a little clearing in the clouds, we’re going to be out there running fans.”

Apricots and plums are highly sensitive to early-season freezes, Talbott said, further characterizing peaches, nectarines and cherries as “moderately” sensitive. Apples and pears he called “pretty durable.”

Peach and nectarine trees at Talbott Farms are in early bloom, he said. Plum trees are in full bloom now, and apricots are in their post-bloom stage, Talbott said.

And while this storm may seem unusually cold for this time of year, it’s par for the course for fruit growers in the region.

“Our biggest financial threat in fruit production in western Colorado is spring frost. So it is always going to be a factor,” Talbott said.

He added: “But I tend to be an optimist. I think we’re still able to take some pretty cold temperatures, and still do well — with the exception of apricots.”


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