Usually, when people say “it sure is warm,” it’s the middle of July. But this year, they’re talking about winter.
Most of the United States has experienced a mild winter so far, and southern Illinois is no exception. The warmer temperatures have contributed to better-than-average bottom lines for some area businesses, but there are a few downsides to the good weather.
The cause of this year’s mild weather is a core of cold air normally located in central or eastern Canada that has remained near Alaska for most of the winter and has pushed the coldest temperatures farther to the west, said WSIL-TV Chief Meteorologist Jim Rasor in an email.
That means most of the continental United States has been affected by a warm, southwesterly flow of air, he said.
Some local businesses specializing in outdoor recreation have benefitted from the warm air flow.
The general manager of Midland Hills Golf Course, Winslow Chou, said he was busier this January than he was last year.
“Normally, we wouldn’t have very much play in the winter,” he said.
Chou said he thought golfers would continue to play if the weather stays warm but the recent rain hasn’t helped. The ground has to stay firm enough to support the carts, he said.
Kelly Drew, owner of Shawnee Adventure Guides in Makanda, said she’s also seen an increase in business because of the mild weather. She offers guided tours for rock climbers, kayakers, canoeists and backpackers.
“This warm weather is motivating people to get ready for spring,” she said.
Cathy Stetson, assistant manager at Changing Seasons Landscape Center in Marion, said her customers are also thinking about spring.
During the two warmest weeks in January, the center’s plant specialists were overwhelmed by customers checking to see what was available for their gardens, she said.
The mild weather is promoting early growth for some species of plants, Stetson said.
“Bulbs and some perennials are starting to bloom already and the buds on some trees are starting to open a little,” she said.
A mid-April cold snap with below-freezing temperatures could damage those early bloomers, Stetson said.
The concern about a severe spring frost was echoed by Homer Cissell, owner of Lincoln Heritage Winery in Cobden.
He said he expects an early bud break on his grapevines this year because of the warmer winter.
A bud break occurs when the buds on a grapevine’s pruned spurs and canes break open to reveal the new growing point of the shoot that will develop from the bud. When bud break occurs too early, the young shoots are more vulnerable to damaging frost later in the spring, according to www.my-grape-vine.com.
Cissell said despite the good weather, he is resisting the temptation to prune his grapevines too early. Because pruning is labor intensive, many grape growers like to start as soon as weather permits.
“I don’t want to put my vines at risk,” he said.
Cissell said he was more concerned about spring and summer weather. Because there hasn’t been a long period of below-freezing temperatures this winter, he said there may be an increase in the number of bugs that infest grapevines.
Rasor said he hopes the abnormal winter doesn’t turn into a violent spring. If the current warm air flow switches to a colder pattern at the same time the area is warming up for spring, a classic clash of warm, humid air and cold, dry air that fuels severe spring storms could result, he said.
While most area residents enjoyed the break from blustery winter weather, waterfowl hunters weren’t as enthused.
Ducks and geese that normally winter in southern Illinois wetlands to avoid harsh winter conditions stayed farther north, said Dolly Ruiz, of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Horseshoe Lake Conservation Area.
Their decreased numbers negatively affected duck and geese hunting, she said.
“The season wasn’t as good this year, but it picked up toward the end,” Ruiz said.