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Record Arctic Cold Stops Spring Fever in the Northeast

April 5, 1995

A blast of arctic air turned magnolia blossoms into compost Wednesday in the Northeast and sent people burrowing into closets for winter clothes.

``It’s kind of a letdown after a very mild winter. Now that spring has arrived, we’ve got winter!″ lamented security officer Brian Connolly in Rochester, N.Y. The city had a noon temperature of 22, and a wind chill of 5 below zero, after several days of readings around 60.

``I envy the ability of other creatures to hibernate when the weather even comes close to this,″ Connolly said.

Workers threw up heated tents to protect tender young shoots at a $2 million spring garden show in New York City, and growers checked peach buds in the Appalachians.

Temperatures fell to record lows in the teens and 20s Wednesday morning from Illinois and Wisconsin to Maine, and southward into Kentucky and West Virginia.

In places, it was the coldest April 5 in more than a century. Toledo, Ohio, had a low of 12 and Madison, Wis., posted a low of 14; both toppled records that had stood since 1881.

Marguerite Seuffert got out her hooded, down-filled jacket and gloves to go outside in Springfield, Mass., and had to lean into a 40 mph wind.

``Living in New England ... I’ve noticed you can’t go by the calendar,″ she said. ``You never know when it’s going to be what.″

It was too cold for the boys of summer.

In Maine, where Caribou had a record low of 1 above zero, the minor league Portland Sea Dogs had to practice indoors; the high was just 32 and wind gusted to 60 mph. In New York, snow canceled the season opener of the Syracuse Chiefs.

In New York City, which dropped to 23 degrees, Central Park’s daffodils and tulips survived but magnolias froze and turned brown. The magnolia flowers were headed for the compost heap.

``They were in full bloom yesterday, absolutely gorgeous. We noticed the fragrance for the first time,″ said Conservatory Garden curator Diane Shaub.

The temperature plummeted as exhibitors had begun delivering plants for a garden show on the pavement of Rockefeller Center. ``It would have ruined them,″ said Sandy Manley, a spokeswoman for Rockefeller’s Center’s management.

Workers rushed plants into several small greenhouses and vacant storefronts. One exhibit got a big plastic tent with big heaters that looked like miniature jet engines, Manley said.

The nine-day show is expected to draw 2 million to 3 million people.

In parts of Maryland and West Virginia, peach growers said they didn’t think lows in the 20s did much to their trees beyond nipping some of the weaker buds. Last season, peach growers in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle lost most of their crop to sub-zero temperatures.

Plums didn’t do as well. ``There’s probably a 90 percent kill on them,″ said Ben Clopper, operator of Ravenrock View Orchard in Smithsburg, Md.

Elsewhere, however, lows in the teens probably caused significant damage to Michigan’s peach and cherry crops, said horticultural extension agent Philip Schwallier.

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