Summer came to a screeching halt on Monday.
The National Weather Service issued a freeze warning in the morning, about the same time autumn officially arrived.
That sent gardeners across the Inland Northwest scrambling to save their frost-sensitive flowers and vegetables.
In addition to the cold overnight low that was forecast, the region saw some of its first frozen precipitation in months in the form of small hail.
“We haven’t had fall, and we are going into winter,” said Judith Feeley, of the sales staff at Northwest Seed and Pet, 2422 E. Sprague Ave.
She said a lot of gardeners were calling for advice, while others came to the store to purchase cover material for their plants. One woman called to ask what she should do to save her dahlias. Other customers were concerned about how they were going to get their green tomatoes to ripen.
“We’ve sold lots and lots of floating row covers,” Feeley said about a product that provides 3 to 6 degrees of warming if placed over plants. “We just all wish summer would last a little longer.”
A freeze in Spokane in the fourth week of September is not unusual, although the average date for the first frost at Spokane International Airport is Oct. 11.
Early frosts in the Inland Northwest often depend on location and elevation. Places like Deer Park are notorious for early freezes. In contrast, the weather service office on Rambo Road northwest of Airway Heights averages its first 32-degree reading on Sept. 25.
Monday’s showers were expected to give way to cool, dry air and no winds, the perfect setup for early frost given the longer nights, said Jeff Cote, forecaster for the weather service in Spokane.
If tender plants survive this week without freeze damage, gardeners should get a reprieve this weekend and into next week as temperatures start to rebound, he said.
The average high for Sept. 23 is 70 degrees and the low is 43 at night.
The weather service’s long-range outlook for late autumn and early winter indicates that conditions will be closer to normal this year, following last winter’s heavy snowfall caused by La Nina cooling of tropical Pacific waters. Ocean temperatures, which appear to trigger winter weather extremes, are near normal, said Ron Miller, forecaster for the National Weather Service.