Monday, February 13, 2012

Winter Weather Update 2-13-12

Some facilities have received snow cover while others remain open to the winter conditions.

Now it’s finally starting to feel like winter. The high temperatures in central Iowa barely crept out of the teens over the weekend. Wind chills brought the temperature down into the single digits and the low temperatures were some of the coldest we have experienced so far.

Records from the National Weather Service indicate that the average temperature in Des Moines from December 1, 2011 through January 31, 2012 was 31.7 degrees. That mark is tied for Des Moines’ third warmest winter and just falls short of the warmest average on record of 32 degrees, set during the winter of 1918-1919. This year ranks eighth in Waterloo, fifth in Mason City and is tied for sixth warmest winter in Ottumwa.

Unusual winter weather conditions have been the norm.  January saw three days in the 60's and nighttime temperatures never fell below zero.

Over the last 100 years the temperature has only reached 65 degrees in January six times. Two of those were this year, and for only the second time since tracking began, temperatures climbed into the 60s on three days in January.

Nighttime low temperatures have also been higher than usual. The lowest temperature recorded in Des Moines so far this winter has been one degree above zero, only the fourth time in 134 years the temperature hasn’t reached zero by the end of January.

Needless to say, this weather has been confusing to plants as many trees have already put out buds. Many of you are wondering how your turf is holding up in these conditions. Some of you received snow cover the weekend of February 4th but others continue to deal with open conditions. Snow cover will help protect the turf from desiccation. Injury from desiccation continues to be the number one cause of concern this winter especially on perennial ryegrass and short cut creeping bentgrass. Desiccation is most common in late winter/early spring when the ground is still frozen and the turf is exposed to drying winds.

One of the best ways to check on the health of your turf during the winter months is to sample turf from high value areas such as putting greens or from areas where the turf has experienced damage in the past. Collecting turf samples when the ground is frozen requires the proper tools. We have a sawzall, and a heavy duty hammer and chisel that we use to remove cores of turf from frozen soil. I collected some turf samples from our research station on the last day of January and brought them into our greenhouses to check the health of the turf.

I collected samples of greens height turf from different rootzones along with creeping bentgrass and perennial ryegrass at fairway height. The plugs collected from the putting greens received a late fall topdressing heading into winter. The fairway height turf did not receive any topdressing. We have had minimal snow cover at our research facility this winter and our turf is exposed to northwest winds.

The good news is that even with very little snow cover this winter, all the plugs greened up after a week in the greenhouse. The greenup came from exiting leaf tissue regaining its color and from new growth from the crown of the plant. Even without a greenhouse you can conduct a similar test at your facility by sampling cores of turf, giving them some water and keeping them in a warm spot with some light. This is a great way to gauge the health of your turf during the winter and can give you an idea what to expect once the snow melts.

These plugs sampled from the field in late January had no trouble greening up after a week in the greenhouse.  Top picture taken January 31, 2012.  Bottom picture taken February 7, 2012.

Marcus Jones
Assistant Scientist
Iowa State University

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