SPOKANE — A surprise snowstorm that hit parts of Eastern Washington on Wednesday may be just the beginning of a worrisome stretch for what was shaping up to be the second-largest apple harvest in Washington history. The cold weather also could cause issues for homeowners and gardeners.
With a cold front that is expected to last through the weekend, apple farmers are concerned about the damage the weather could cause.
Low temperatures in October are a common threat to the Washington apple industry, but extreme cold could hurt the crop. Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington Tree Fruit Association, said the Washington apple harvest is about half complete. It starts in early August and typically runs into November.
“We were already expecting the second-largest Washington crop ever,” DeVaney said. “You can sustain a little loss from cold weather and still have a very large apple crop.”
The potential for damage depends on several variables, including the orchard’s location and elevation and the farmer’s ability to cope. Many use propane-powered fans that are designed to prevent cold air from settling on the orchards.
“There are always weather challenges in any year,” DeVaney said. “Growers will tell you that nature always throws you curveballs. The question is which ones. They are worried about cold temperatures, but this is something they are familiar with and prepared to deal with.”
Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, said apple growers are fine as long as the lows stay in the 30s.
“It takes a while for apples to freeze,” Powers said. “We have to kind to wait and see what transpires. But a lot of people will be spending sleepless nights. There is still a lot of fruit in the orchards that needs to be harvested.”
In the Yakima Valley, the cold weather caused harvest delays for Morgan Rowe’s orchards Thursday with workers starting at 11 a.m., several hours past their usual start time of 7 a.m.
“We just had to wait until (the apples) thaw to pick,” said Rowe, a Naches-based grower.
Rowe said he hasn’t lost any of his crop due to the weather but he doesn’t count that possibility out if the temperature dips even further.
“I suppose there is a temperature that will have a lasting effect,” he said.
Todd Beck, owner of Beck’s Harvest House, at 9919 E. Greenbluff Road in Colbert, said the cold did not concern him. Beck predicts this will be the last weekend that visitors can handpick apples at his business. If anything, the cold enhances the fall feel of the region, he said.
“Apples are pretty hearty. I’m an optimist. I don’t think it will be anything noticeable to people who come out,” Beck said. “There is a chance we could get damage from the freeze. But the cold right now won’t hurt apples any more than cold in a week from now.”
The Yakima Herald-Republic contributed to this article.