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Jack Frost Running Late: First Hard Freeze Yet to Hit Valley

  • Rolando Vera Carro picks strawberries at 4 Corners Farm in Newbury, Vt. on Oct. 21, 2013. A heavy frost has not hit the region yet, allowing a longer growing season for some friuts and vegetables. Behind him are Rafael Vera Rocha, left, and Jaika Fontaine who were also picking. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Rolando Vera Carro picks strawberries at 4 Corners Farm in Newbury, Vt. on Oct. 21, 2013. A heavy frost has not hit the region yet, allowing a longer growing season for some friuts and vegetables. Behind him are Rafael Vera Rocha, left, and Jaika Fontaine who were also picking.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • At 4 Corners Farm in Newbury, Vt. on Oct. 21, 2013, Ellie Van Hof cuts up fresh yellow and red peppers that to freeze for the winter. Peppers are still being harvested at the farm due to  warmer temperatures. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    At 4 Corners Farm in Newbury, Vt. on Oct. 21, 2013, Ellie Van Hof cuts up fresh yellow and red peppers that to freeze for the winter. Peppers are still being harvested at the farm due to warmer temperatures.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Rolando Vera Carro picks strawberries at 4 Corners Farm in Newbury, Vt. on Oct. 21, 2013. A heavy frost has not hit the region yet, allowing a longer growing season for some friuts and vegetables. Behind him are Rafael Vera Rocha, left, and Jaika Fontaine who were also picking. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • At 4 Corners Farm in Newbury, Vt. on Oct. 21, 2013, Ellie Van Hof cuts up fresh yellow and red peppers that to freeze for the winter. Peppers are still being harvested at the farm due to  warmer temperatures. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

Newbury, Vt. — In almost a decade of working at 4 Corners Farm, Rogelio Robles has never been out picking the strawberry fields this late in October.

Usually the work wraps up around the beginning of the month, he said .

“Other years, by this time, we don’t pick strawberries,” he said Monday, crouched among rows of fruit with three other workers, collecting baskets of strawberries in temperatures that hovered in the high 60s. “It’s almost November and we’re still picking.”

With most of the Upper Valley yet to see the season’s first hard freeze, meteorologists say this autumn could be one for the record books: At the Union Village Dam, for example, where National Weather Service has kept records since 2000, the latest hard freeze took place on Oct. 20, 2005. And in the past 30 years, the latest hard freeze in areas such as Cavendish and Montpelier has been Oct. 21.

The region’s average hard frost date is Oct. 4, said National Weather Service meteorologist Brooke Taber. And although folks in some of the deepest vales may have seen the mercury dip to 32 degrees or lower, Taber said the Upper Valley’s first widespread hard freeze — temperatures 30 degrees and below for multiple hours — isn’t expected until Thursday morning, and perhaps as late as Saturday.

“We are definitely behind the chronological norms. ... It just goes to show how warm we’ve been,” Taber said. “We’ve been under a big ridge of high pressure across the whole eastern United States, and that has just continued to keep us fairly dry but also very warm, with temperatures averaging anywhere from 4 to 7 degrees above normal for the month of October.”

For Robles and the rest of the crew at 4 Corners, that explains the late-season strawberries, as well as most of the farms’ other fruit and vegetable crops, especially corns, beans, broccoli and peppers, which are still producing.

Manning a fully stocked farmstand Monday, farmhand Ellie Van Hof had one word for the season’s temperatures: “Bonkers.”

Down near the strawberry fields, farm owner Bob Gray agreed. “It’s way, way late,” he said, speaking about the length of the harvest. “Usually the first of October is a really late date.”

This is the mildest fall Gray can recall, he said.

And while keeping the hard frost at bay has meant more produce for the farmstand, “I’d just as soon get things done,” he said, laughing.

Taber said the National Weather Service generally considers it to be a frost when temperatures drop to between 32 and 36 degrees, a freeze below 32 degrees, and a hard, or killing, freeze at 30 degrees and below.

But, he said, don’t get too tangled up in the numbers: When you wake up to a hard frost, you’ll know it.

“I guess what we can do is enjoy what we’ve experienced so far, and be prepared for the changes in the middle of this week,” he said.

Non-farmers are feeling the effects of the temperatures, too, he said. He pointed to folks who are enjoying lower energy bills because of a reduced need to heat homes. And although the foliage season depends on several factors, including wind and rain, he said the warm temperatures may have kept leaves on the trees longer.

Meanwhile, ticks and other insects might not be having as big a hey-day as could be expected, said Trish Hanson, forest protection entomologist for Vermont’s Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.

The months of May and October see the highest rate of deer tick activity, she said, and ticks can survive a frost or freeze if they have proper protection.

“They tend to be more active when it’s warm, but people are more active when it’s warm too, so their chances of coming in touch with them are greater too,” Hanson said. “So the encounters kind of increase. ... The qualities they need (for survival) are the proper humidity and the available host. ... There’s so many factors.”

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.