It doesn’t take much to notice the swings in Cleveland weather. Temperatures have jumped from 50 degrees and sunny to below-freezing and snowy all within a matter of days this March.
Is this abnormal, or just the unpredictable weather that comes with a change in seasons and our location? According to meteorologists Betsy Kling at WKYC and Dontaé Jones at Fox 8, to a certain extent, Cleveland is just being, well, Cleveland.
“The bottom line is we live in Cleveland,” Kling says. “Cleveland is in a very volatile location as far as weather goes; our weather changes constantly.”
Cleveland is in, what Kling likes to call, the “weather superhighway” meaning that the jet streams, narrow bands of strong wind in the upper levels of the atmosphere, are on the main storm track, allowing for “barrages of storm systems coming through” and every storm system stirring our atmosphere. This allows for swings, which are especially impactful during transition seasons like spring and fall.
During transitional seasons, our troposphere, the first 50,000 feet of the atmosphere where all our weather happens, is working to warm us up, but anytime you add heat, you are adding energy.
“So on the tail end of spring, the cold air is here. And it doesn't necessarily want to leave, because it's pretty happy,” Kling says. “But because we are getting some warming that's taking place, the days are getting longer. We start to get more systems coming at us from the South that start to shove that cold air out, but cold air is not ready to let go. And so eventually, we'll have some kind of a cool snap that comes out of Canada or the northern latitudes. And we ended up getting kind of a slap in the face with the cold air.”
One reason why these cold snaps may seem so jarring is due to our abnormally warm winter, Jones theorizes. Cleveland spent more time in the 40s and 50s during the winter months than it did in the teens, 20s and 30s.
“I think when you look at the whole of things, it's just been so warm for this whole season.” Jones says. “When we look at December, January and February, it was an abnormally warm winter. So every now and again, we get shot, so actual winter. It shocks us.”
When asked if climate change is a player in our warm winter, both meteorologists say it's a possibility, but to pinpoint that you’d have to look at other aspects and the impact across the globe.
“It’s very difficult to cherry-pick events caused by climate change,” Kling told us recently. “But I know I have to be prepared for more extremes.”
It feels like our seasons are being pushed around, that over the last four years, a cold snap comes early in the season, we have a mild winter and then we get “hammered” during the months of March and April, Kling says.
“I don't know if that is necessarily what is still to come because of climate change,” Kling says. “Or what kind of an overall pattern shift we are subjected to, I don't know that Cleveland will be the new San Diego of the United States in 200 years, but there's definitely changes that are happening, the extremes are getting more extreme.”
Whether mild winters are the future for Cleveland weather is unknown, but we can be expecting more stable temperatures at the end of May or the beginning of June, they say.
So until then, with winter coats, rain boots and tank tops on rotation, we sat down with local professionals to discuss how Clevelanders can prepare their homes, cars and landscapes for the fluctuating weather.
Protecting Your Home
“Winter is not over yet,” says Patrick Kotek Sr., who has served as vice president at H. Jack’s Plumbing and Heating Co. for over 25 years.
With that in mind, Clevelanders should maintain typical winter precautions such as knowing where their main water shut-off valve is and making sure it is operable and keeping cabinets open under the sink and running a warm facet to avoid burst pipes in the case of freezing temperatures. Kotek warns folks getting excited about spring against turning on their outdoor hose, which should remain disconnected and turned off during the winter months.
Kotek also suggests having older equipment serviced during the spring. H. Jack receives fewer calls to its 24/7 emergency hotline and has more availability due to less drastic temperatures. Now is a good time for maintenance on HVAC equipment, cleaning and checking air conditioners for summer or any projects you may need a plumber or technician for in your home.
“You always want to make sure that your heating system is cleaned and up to par and ready to go when it's needed,” Kotek says. “What I would suggest, if you have older equipment such as a furnace or air conditioner, and you think you may get through the winter right now, this is actually the best time to do that type of work.”
In addition to plumbing, heating and air conditioning services, H.Jacks assists with home repair and remodeling projects like waterproofing or finishing basements and updating kitchens and bathrooms. This is the best time to get the ball rolling on those renovation projects as well, Kotek says.
Protecting Your Car
The unpredictable weather may not be catastrophic to your vehicle, but it may exaggerate already present issues. With any temperature, it is important for Clevelanders to stay ahead of their general maintenance to avoid larger issues, says Robert Yalanty, owner of Bob’s Automotive.
“Getting your car serviced by whomever is a very important aspect of a car's life and longevity of a car,” Yalanty says. “A lot of people tend to forget about the maintenance. And you know, let's face it, we all have pretty busy lives nowadays and sometimes the car maintenance is on the back burner and sometimes that comes to bite your right square in the butt if you don't take care of those kinds of things.”
Yalanty suggests maintaining proper tire pressures and lubrication, regular oil changes and clean filters along with driving your vehicle daily and, if possible, keeping it in a garage.
Protecting Your Landscape
Fickle weather seems to have the most impact on landscaping as warmer temperatures cause trees and plants to develop prematurely just to be shocked by the cold, leading to dieback, insect activity and disease.
“A lot of times when we start to get an unreasonably warm season like we are currently, we start to leaf-out prematurely,” CJ Taylor, a sales arborist with Davey Tree Expert Co. for six years says. “And then that freeze will cause leaf dieback and things like that. So it starts to cause a lot of stress on trees. Later in the season, you'll start to see early defoliation of leaves and you do get an increase in insect and disease activity as well.”
To leaf-out prematurely means that “in the spring, the buds start to swell on a tree, and that's when the leaf starts to develop for the season. So with warm temperatures like this, the trees think that we are in the springtime, and they will start to create those leaves now which are later affected by the freezing temperatures in the cold weather.”
Premature leaf-out causes leaf dieback, or browning and curling on the leaves later in the season, and early defoliation, meaning deciduous trees like maples will drop their leaves in September and October rather than October and November, Taylor says.
There is not much you can do to prevent this from happening, says Taylor but there are ways to help trees deal with these conditions.
“Just like us, if I picked you up right now and put you in Nome, Alaska, just the way you're dressed, it's going to kind of shock you a little bit, and the trees are the same way,” Taylor says. “So to help them deal with that we recommend deep root fertilizing to give them that extra nutrition. Kind of like us taking our daily vitamins.”
During fluctuating weather, trees also decrease their cell production causing them to be weaker and prone to insect and disease activity. Phosphonate treatment can help increase tree cell production and maintain its health.
“With a phosphonate treatment, we're going to increase the cell production in the tree and help get that tree to a healthy standpoint where it can help fight off disease and insects on its own,” Taylor says.
Stress cracking in the tree may also occur due to the fluctuation of freezing tree sap which may cause the tree to crack and lead to decaying wood on the inside of the tree. Cracked trees can stay up for years or fall within days.
“If you see a crack, it is time to call,” Taylor says.
As for your lawn, the effects of the weather are typically not noticeable or dangerous due to the rate it grows, but Davey Landscaping does recommend fertilizing to make sure that the root system stays healthy enough to continue to produce, says Taylor.
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