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Published May 09, 2010, 08:38 PM

Short length of weekend frost raises hopes area crops not badly damaged

Neil Widner, newly elected chairman of American Crystal Sugar Co., was up early Sunday to patrol his sugar beet fields near Stephen, Minn., after two nights in a row of temperatures falling below freezing.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald

Neil Widner, newly elected chairman of American Crystal Sugar Co., was up early Sunday to patrol his sugar beet fields near Stephen, Minn., after two nights in a row of temperatures falling below freezing.

“I drove around, and the thermometer in my pickup this morning about 6:20 was at 29,” Widner said Sunday. “For some reason, we had more frost the night before. We marked a few the day before so we could go back and check (Sunday). We were out and looked and we did OK.”

In this early spring that had above-normal warmth in March and April, his sugar beets already have been above ground about a week.

The fact that temperatures reportedly didn’t stay down below 30 degrees very long was a good sign that the beet plants maybe didn’t get hurt.

“But frost is funny,” Widner said. “It doesn’t seem like one frost is like the next one. How much is the ground temperature, the duration of the cold, other factors all make it hard to figure out.”

Temperatures fell well below freezing across the region early Sunday, but not for long, said Bill Barrett of the National Weather Service office in Grand Forks.

“The lowest in this area was Hansboro, at 27 degrees,” Barrett said. Hansboro is northeast of Rolla, N.D., in Towner County just south of the Canadian border.

“From our reports, it doesn’t look like it stayed at those lows more than two hours,” Barrett said.

But it got frosty in some parts two nights in a row.

Icy roads near Cloquet, Minn., south of Duluth, were blamed for an ambulance crashing Friday night that killed an elderly patient being transferred to another hospital.

Park Rapids, Minn., saw the mercury fall to 25 degrees early Sunday.

At Lankin, N.D., in Walsh County, it got down to 28 degrees. At Bottineau, down to 24 and down to 21 in Carson, N.D., southwest of Bismarck and 24 in Wilton, just north of Bismarck.

Northeastern Minnesota saw the coldest temperatures, as usual: 17 in Embarrass, 19 in Grand Marais, 22 in International Falls, 24 in Duluth.

Brainerd, in the central Lakes region, saw 25 degrees. It hit 30 in Crookston and Hallock, Minn. And right on 32 in Grand Forks and Thief River Falls.

“It did get pretty stiff around here this morning,” said Crystal Martodam, agricultural extension agent for Towner County. “The wheat should be OK, even though it got frostbit a little. If any canola got in early, that might be stung a little bit harder.”

The “growing point” on young wheat plants is protected by leaves, but it stands pretty much on top of a canola shoot, making it more vulnerable to frost, Martodam said.

She figures about 25 percent of the wheat is planted in Towner County, but only a percent or two of canola.

One farmer reported that an early seeded canola field in northern Towner County got widely damaged by the frost, according to family members.

Otherwise, it’s been an ideal spring for getting crops in, she said, especially compared with previous springs, when flooding kept farmers out of fields until late in the game.

But it’s not unusual to get temperatures below 30 degrees as late as May 8, Barrett said. And the average last date when the mercury slips to 32 degrees is about May 15 in Grand Forks, he said.

The good news, Barrett said, is that while there is no big warmup on the week’s horizon, the lows look to fall only into the upper 30s and low 40s.

After March and April averaged 8 to 10 degrees above average temperatures, May so far in Grand Forks has been averaging 43.1 degrees, 9.2 degrees below normal.

At the weather service’s reporting site at UND, 1.21 inches of precipitation has fallen in May, 0.73 of an inch above normal and about average for the entire month.

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to slee@gfherald.com.

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