Roughly an inch of snow fell on James Hoff’s potato fields south of Idaho Falls on Wednesday as he and his crews raced to bring in the rest of the crop.
Hoff hoped to be 100 percent done with his harvest by Wednesday night, ahead of the freezing temperatures predicted for Thursday and Friday morning.
Hoff says they’ve been starting early each day this week despite the cold temperatures in the mornings, risking the potential for shatter bruising — referring to cracks that can damage the skin.
“(If you start when it’s) too cold, you can shatter bruise the potatoes,” Hoff said, but added that that’s better than the alternative. “If they freeze in the ground, that’s not good either.”
A strong cold front moved into the region on Tuesday night, bringing wind, snow and chilly temperatures that have not only threatened unharvested crops throughout Idaho, but also played a role in multiple slide-offs and at least one road closure.
The Standard Journal in Rexburg reports that there were numerous slide-offs in the Island Park area on Wednesday. And the Idaho Transportation Department shut down the section of Interstate 15 between Dubois and the Montana border due to winds and heavy snowfall that created hazardous driving conditions. As of 5:30 p.m., the road was still closed.
Mike Huston, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service forecast office in Pocatello, said an observer reported that 3.9 inches of snow had fallen in the Dubois area by 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
Huston said a band of snow moved from the Idaho National Laboratory area across the Snake River Plains, dropping anywhere from 1 to 1.5 inches of snow in parts of Eastern Idaho, including Idaho Falls and Pocatello.
Although the storm started to fizzle Wednesday afternoon, Huston said the area could get potentially record-low temperatures in its wake.
He noted that Pocatello could see temperatures as low as 14 on Thursday morning and 15 on Friday morning. The area’s record daily low for Oct. 10 is currently 18, set in 1985, and for Oct. 11, it’s 19, set in 2003, he said.
“These types of temperatures aren’t unheard of,” Huston said, but added that they’re certainly lower than usual. The average low for this time of year is around 35.
Other portions of the U.S. are experiencing similar difficulties.
AccuWeather reported on Wednesday that U.S. farmers were going to get “exactly what they didn’t want”: early snow.
“AccuWeather meteorologists are calling for a two-part storm, the first of which is targeting the northern and central Rockies and High Plains. The second part will bring snow to not only the eastern and central portions of the Dakotas but also far western Minnesota,” the article states.
AccuWeather reported that 6 to 12 inches of snow could fall from western and central South Dakota to central and eastern North Dakota, and drifting snow could cause it to become much deeper in some locations.
The article indicates that the storm could negatively affect corn and soybean yields.
“They’re supposed to be harvesting, and now they’re going to get a foot or two of snow — and that might take a week to melt and then you still have saturated ground,” AccuWeather senior meteorologist Jason Nicholls said in the article. “And there’s also potential damage from the 20- to 40-mph winds.”
Farmers in Idaho are running into similar problems with cold temperatures and frost threatening onion, sweet corn seed, sugar beet and potato crops, said Sean Ellis, media contact for the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.
Potato crops are the biggest concern right now.
Ellis said only 60 percent of the crops had been harvested as of Monday. That percentage has significantly increased this week as farmers have been working hard — some around the clock — to save as many potatoes as they can before the temperatures drop.
But farmers are still expected to lose some of their crops.
“There will still be a lot of spuds out when it hits,” Ellis said, adding that he’s heard as much as 10 percent of Idaho’s potato crop could freeze.
While it may not do farmers much good, Huston said temperatures should climb back into the 50s and 60s over the weekend.
Another storm system is expected to hit the region next week. Elevations above 8,000 feet could see some snow with that storm, Huston said, but most of the valleys and lower mountain areas will get rain.