Wild winter makes way for ‘perfect’ spring

NEW CUMBERLAND, Pa. (WHTM) — After a winter defined by wild temperature swings and late season snow, nature experts are reveling in ideal spring conditions.

“The trees have managed to make it through another brutal winter,” said Bob Carey, a certified arborist whose Horticultural Services focuses on tree health. “Despite all of the ups and downs, we’re in a sweet spot right now.”

Collecting a soil sample from the ground at New Cumberland Borough Park, Carey demonstrates how the moist soil can be easily flattened into a small patty, which does not crumble as it hangs over the edge of his hand.

“Just a very saturated soil right now, which is a great sign that trees will have a healthy start this year,” Carey added. “If we had an extraordinarily dry winter, the water that the trees need to begin pushing leaves just wouldn’t be there.”

While examining several trees in the park, Carey discovers signs that trees haven’t completely escaped winter’s indecisiveness. A small weeping willow shows clear signs of frost damage at the end of a long stringy branch, which likely occurred when warm February temperatures as high as 78 degrees kick-started trees out of dormancy but then couldn’t sustain the new growth when temperatures dipped below freezing in March. However, the young tree seems to have recovered well and has started to burst with small leaf activity from its buds.

Another Midstate nature watcher says while the warmest part of February was troubling, it doesn’t appear to have made a lasting negative impact. Conversely, the 17-20 inch snowfall that blanketed the region on March 14 contributed greatly to the favorable current conditions.

“That was a real plus, the snow,” said Josh Parrish, who heads the Working Woodlands program for The Nature Conservancy in Pennsylvania. “That foot and a half of snow and then that really kind of moderate temperature and slow melt actually really soaked in and percolated into the soil.”

Parrish, overlooking the Yellow Breeches Creek in Lower Allen Township, said recent soaking rainfall helped to restore creeks and rivers to healthy flow levels and restore the underground aquifer. Additionally, mild, cool temperatures so far this spring have allowed for an impressive insect hatch, which provides food for fish, birds and other wildlife.

“This is an extremely important time for amphibians,” Parrish said. “There are vernal pools that form in wetlands and other places that make great places for those species to lay eggs, like salamanders and spring peepers.”

Another benefit of a moist spring is a bumper crop of wild, edible mushrooms in Midstate forests.

“People don’t like to give up their locations for hunting them,” Parrish said. “It will be a good year, particularly morels which are coming into season here in the next couple weeks in Central Pennsylvania.”

While both Carey and Parrish describe “perfect” and “classic” spring conditions, both opinions are subjective. While more than an inch of soaking rain is expected to fall through the upcoming weekend, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection still lists most Midstate counties under a drought watch, with two counties remaining under the more severe drought warning. Those assessments are subject to change weekly.

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