Grand Junction wakes up to more winter

Old Man Winter is heaving a late, chilly blast of air on the Western Slope, and that could spell trouble for orchard owners and people who already planted their gardens.

A wide swath of the lower elevations of western Colorado and eastern Utah, including the Grand Valley, was under a freeze warning until 9 a.m. today. Lows this morning were expected to dip into the upper 20s, and more fruit- and vegetable-threatening cold could be on tap tonight and Saturday morning.

The warning area extends along the Interstate 70 corridor from the Utah state line to Rifle and the U.S. Highway 50 corridor from Grand Junction to Montrose.

“It’s going to get quite cold overnight as we kind of clear out,” said Matthew Aleksa, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

Orchardists throughout the valley were expected to watch the thermometer throughout the night to determine whether they needed to fire up their smudge pots and wind machines to ward off frost.

Fruit specialists say fruit trees can lose 10 percent of their crop if the temperature drops to 28 degrees for 30 minutes. If the temperatures drop to 25 degrees for 30 minutes, 90 percent of the crop could be lost.

“Half a degree can mean the difference between surviving and not surviving,” said Bob Helmer, owner of Alida’s Fruits on East Orchard Mesa.

Carol Zadrozny, owner of Z’s Orchards in Palisade, was fearful she would lose her two acres worth of apricots. The stone fruit plays second fiddle to another stone fruit here —  peaches — but Z’s treasures them and ships them to retailers outside the valley.

Zadrozny said most of the orchard’s smudge pots will be used to try to preserve apricots, which she said have grown to the size of her thumb.

“We want apricots. We will fight for those,” she said.

Her son-in-law spent a good chunk of the day Thursday making sure the orchard’s wind machines were primed and ready to protect its peaches.

“We’re hoping that we’ll be able to fight that margin and we’ll be able to lift the temperature a few degrees to save a crop,” Zadrozny said.

This morning’s forecasted freeze occurred several days after the average last freeze in Grand Junction. The city’s average last freeze is April 22. The latest freeze on record occurred May 15, 1916, when the low dropped to 32 degrees, Aleksa said.

The cold air mass moved in behind a storm that left a dusting of snow in Grand Junction and several inches in other locations. By late morning Thursday, the Weather Service had received reports of two to four inches in Montrose, four inches in Rangely, six to eight inches on Grand Mesa and 10 inches in Aspen, Aleksa said.

The chance for snow or rain showers is expected to stick around in the valley throughout the weekend before the skies clear Monday. Highs are forecast to top out in the 50s Saturday and Sunday and reach the 60s early next week.


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