Spring? But where's the warm weather?

At Penn Hills Lawn & Garden Center and Gift Shop, some customers were upset enough about the colder-than-usual weather to joke about shooting Punxsutawney Phil.

"We look at Punxsutawney Phil as a joke," said Darcy Kennedy, the business' marketing manager.

Those customers aren't necessarily wrong to be mad at Phil. This March is shaping up to be colder than usual. And the high for today -- the first day of spring -- is forecast to be 35 degrees.

Temperatures in late March tend to hover in the low 50s, said Brad Rehak, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh.

However, Mr. Rehak expects temperatures will continue to range 15 to 20 degrees colder than the 30-year average through the end of the month, and he said temperatures in the 30s could occur into the first weeks of April.

But Ms. Kennedy said the colder weather is doing more than creating anger toward a meteorologically deficient groundhog -- it's affecting her bottom line.

"This time last year we already had people who were landscaping" and a shipment of evergreens and foundation plants has already been pushed to April, Ms. Kennedy said.

The colder temperatures are the result of a weather system that is funneling colder air from Canada instead of the southwestern United States, according to Mr. Rehak.

The average temperature in March 2012 was 62.5 degrees, with three days above 79 degrees in a 10-day stretch

This month, the average has been 42.8 degrees.

While the prospect of a few more weeks of wintry weather might annoy those nostalgic for March 2012, some business owners aren't blowing any hot air over the low temperatures.

"Compared to last year, we're back to reality," Randy Soergel said.

Mr. Soergel helps run the family business, a garden center and orchard in the Wexford section of Franklin Park.

"For us, the good part is ... nothing is going to be nipped by colder temperatures."

A warm March can be particularly harsh because his apple and peach trees tend to flower early, making them more vulnerable to a cold snap, Mr. Soergel said.

If the blossoms freeze, the trees are much less likely to bear fruit.

Mr. Rehak said warm temperatures last March were problematic for some farmers because the growing season started too early.

That's exactly what happened to Mr. Soergel, an experience he isn't eager to relive.

He said he lost 40 percent of his apples and nearly all of his peaches, which he said cost the family thousands of dollars.

"When you're in farming, those are the risks that your take," he said. "It's devastating when you lose it."

Despite the chilly March temperatures, this winter was not colder than average.

Both December and January were warmer than usual -- a trend that is likely to persist, according to Mr. Rehak.

"Longer-range computer models are showing warmer [weather] than normal for late spring and summer," he said.

That's if you trust algorithms more than soothsaying, prognosticating groundhogs.

weather - mobilehome

Alex Zimmerman: azimmerman@post-gazette.com. First Published March 20, 2013 4:00 AM


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