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Growers will wait to assess possible peach damage

Agriculture officials say it could be several days before they know if the Carolinas’ peach crop was badly damaged by subfreezing temperatures Friday morning.

But they expect that the region’s other vulnerable fruit, strawberries, came through the frigid morning without major problems.

Temperatures tumbled into the low- and mid-20s across the Charlotte region shortly before daybreak Friday. Charlotte’s unofficial low of 26 degrees was the city’s coldest spring season temperature since a low of 21 degrees on April 8, 2007.

Chilly weather is forecast to continue for the next week, although forecasters say temperatures will remain above freezing this weekend. At the same time, they expect clouds and rain both Saturday and Sunday, and afternoon highs will be 15 to 20 degrees below seasonal averages.

Growers and extension service agents said some varieties of peach trees were in full bloom this week, while others hadn’t started to blossom. Only those in bloom were at risk of freeze damage, they said.

They said the freeze actually might do a favor for growers, since growers typically have to thin the peach crop on trees.

“I’ve seen growers take whiffle ball bats and knock some peaches off the trees, so the remaining fruit can grow large enough,” said Aimee Rankin, an extension service agent based in Anson County.

“A lot of the time, the trees can lose 90 percent of the blooms, and it doesn’t affect the crop,” she added.

Andy Rollins, a horticulture and fruit specialist for South Carolina’s extension service, said growers will assess potential damage in several days. But he concurred that some thinning of the crop could be beneficial.

Kevin Starr, an extension service agent in Lincoln County, said crops to the northwest of Charlotte had not developed enough to be at risk of freezing weather yet.

Strawberry growers covered their crops and used sprinklers to put down a thin layer of ice on bushes early Friday. Water gives off heat as it freezes, and that is often enough to protect the developing fruit.

For the rest of the Charlotte region, rain and chilly temperatures will be the story this weekend.

Some light rain is forecast early Saturday, but more substantial precipitation is expected Saturday night into Sunday. Forecasters say temperatures Sunday might not climb out of the 40s.

Meteorologists say a buckle in the jet stream has allowed cold air to spill into the eastern United States. That pattern is expected to continue into early April.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107
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