CHAMPAIGN – Much of the Midwest experienced the hottest March on record this year and Illinois had its warmest winter since 1895, a pair of climate-study agencies at the University of Illinois said Tuesday.
All that warm weather has some farmers and gardeners planting weeks ahead of schedule. It also comes with a warning: No matter how unlikely it may seem, April in Illinois and its neighbors could still bring plant-damaging cold.
In all, according to Midwestern Regional Climate Center, nine Midwestern states had their warmest March ever: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. Average temperatures in the states ranged from 57.6 degrees in Kentucky to 42 degrees in Minnesota. The records that were broken had been set in either the mid-1940s or 1910 in all nine states.
And in Illinois, according to the state’s Water Survey, the January through March period was the warmest stretch of winter since 1895, with an average temperature of 40.9 degrees – more than nine degrees above normal.
State Climatologist Jim Angel said much of the country had an unusually warm March.
“It’s pretty much from the Rockies to New York there that we’ve had the above-normal temperatures,” Angel said. “So it’s been pretty extraordinary.”
All that warm weather has farmers and others heading to their fields well ahead of schedule.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture noted Monday that about 5 percent of the state’s corn crop has been planted by the end of last week. Typically, there wouldn’t be any corn in the ground yet.
Angel said farmers and gardeners in southern Illinois will almost certainly be OK, but those in central and northern Illinois who’ve already planted corn and other crops not usually planted until later are taking their chances. As recently as 2007, the state experienced weather in the 20s in April, he said.
“So far I’ve managed to fight the urge to put tomato plants out yet,” Angel said.
There’s also no link between a warm late winter and early spring and hotter-than-normal summers, Angle said after recently studying the 10 warmest months of March in recorded Illinois history.
“In fact, the summers are really pretty mundane following those Marches,” he said.
They do, though, tend to be on the dry side, Angel said.
The U.S. Drought Monitor this week classified much of central Illinois as unusually dry, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resource son Tuesday urged people to be careful on public lands and on their own properties not to start wildfires under the circumstances.
“Our IDNR staff and local fire agencies have already been busy this spring dealing with wildfires at state sites,” the department’s forest protection program manager, Tom Wilson, said in a news release.