Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Yakima Valley growers worry cold snap may take large bite out of fruit crop

Orchard worker Francisco Hernandez reaches to pull honeycrisp apples off a tree June 16, 2020, during a thinning of the trees at an orchard in Yakima, Wash.   (Associated Press)
By Phil Ferolito Yakima Herald-Republic

An arctic jet stream hovering above has brought biting cold, snow, rain and hail that has growers worried across the Yakima Valley.

Orchards were laden with snow on Wednesday, an unusual sight, said grower Mike Saunders with Apple King—Pro Orchard Management.

“It’s crazy. I mean it looks like it’s Christmas out there,” he said.

Freezing temperatures began hitting the area early this week with another cold snap expected next week, a weather forecaster said.

Growers have been working through the night using wind machines and smudge pots to warm orchards.

Apple, pear and cherry trees are in bloom across the Valley, but the cold is keeping the bees from pollinating.

Saunders isn’t sure what another cold spell will mean for crops across the Valley.

“We think the outset — we could have nothing left by Saturday morning,” he said. “It’s unusual. We haven’t had a bad spring for several years and here we are.”

It’s still too early to assess the impact, said Tim Kovis, director of communications and events for the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.

“It’s way too early to know what the outcome is going to be,” he said Tuesday. “Probably next week they’ll be assessing orchards and see what they need to do.”

A lack of pollination is the biggest concern, Kovis said.

Temperatures below 55 degrees are keeping bees inactive, he said.

“This is the window that is essential for the bees to be out in the orchards and pollinating those buds for the growing process,” he said.

Not all orchards in the state are in the same dilemma although they are still facing freezing temperatures, Kovis said.

Chelan, for example, has had snow, but fruit trees there have yet to bud, he said.

“So they are going to be able to ride it out better than someone to the south,” Kovis said.

Thursday’s forecast called for a high of 50 degrees with an overnight low of 32 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Next week is expected to see temperatures near to above freezing, said forecaster Brandon Lawhorn.

On Monday, a half-inch of snow was measured in Yakima and another half-inch Wednesday.

Previously, the valley hadn’t seen spring snow that late for more than a decade, Lawhorn said.

Most recent was on April 2, 2010, when 0.8 inches of snow fell in Yakima. Before that, on March 31, 1982, Yakima had 1.8 inches of snow measured, Lawhorn said.