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“I pray that the life of this spring and summer may ever lie fair in my memory.” — Henry David Thoreau

The “Winters” of Spring

As seasons change and battle out their differences, we can be sure that both warm and cold spells will come in the spring.

Keep in mind that the average last frost for the plateau is around the second week of May. Don’t plant frost-sensitive plants until after May 15th, and even then I would check the weather forecast!

The latest frost and freeze dates on record for the Cumberland Plateau may surprise you. The latest freeze on record occurred on May 28, 1961. On that morning, the official temperature at Crossville dropped to 32 degrees at the airport. The Crossville airport is one of two official reporting sites on the plateau for the National Weather Service in Nashville. The other is the Crossville UT Experiment Station.  

The latest recorded frost for the plateau occurred on June 3, 1956. That morning’s low temperature of 33 degrees led to widespread frost on the plateau. I bet a lot of folks saw a light freeze that night. I also figure that some folks lost some garden plants that year! 

As we transition from winter to summer, there will be episodes of cold air that we call “cold spells”. Southern tradition dictates that we name our spring cold spells. These “winters” correspond with certain blooming vegetation.

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In Tennessee, we have five “winters” that you may be familiar with. The first is Redbud Winter and that cold spell corresponds to the blooming of the Redbud trees. Next is Dogwood Winter, a time of chilly weather when those beautiful Dogwoods are in bloom. Native Americans looked for this winter as a sign to begin planting corn.


Even late in the spring, we still have yet more winters to go. There’s Locust Winter, which coincides with the blooming Locust trees, followed by Blackberry Winter. A frost on the blackberry bushes signals the blackberry canes to start growing.  

There’s also a lesser known type of winter known as Cotton Britches Winter. This is usually the final cold spell of the spring. Folklore says that, ‘When this little cold spell is over, you can put on your cotton britches because winter is over.” 

Other folks believe the last winter is called Whippoorwill Winter. This cold snap is the least harsh of them all and coincides with the time when Whippoorwills are calling for a mate. 

Don’t let the warm days fool you this spring. Keep a watch out for those winters! 

MM Weather Fact 

Astronomical seasons are based on the geographical location of the sun, while meteorological seasons are in simpler three-month increments. For instance, meteorological spring consists of the months March, April, and May.

NASA Nerdiness 

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei arrived at the International Space Station on April 9, 2021, and is expected to return home March 30, 2022, after spending 355 days in low-Earth orbit. This duration breaks the previous record, held by retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, by 15 days.

“Our astronauts are incredible explorers helping expand our knowledge of how humans can live and work in space for longer periods of time,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Mark’s record-setting mission and his contributions to science are paving the way for more people to travel to space on longer duration missions as the agency pushes the boundaries of exploration to the Moon and Mars. Thank you for your service, Mark, and congratulations!”

Aboard the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei squeezes in time to unwind with a book. Vande Hei made it into record books on Tuesday, March 15, 2022, breaking the record for the most consecutive days in space by an American explorer.
Credits: NASA/ESA/T. Pesquet

MM’s Favorite Shot

The ring system of Saturn is about 186,000 miles across, but has an average thickness of only around 30 feet. That makes Saturn’s rings 10,000 times thinner, relatively speaking, than a sheet of paper. (Thanks to the @ThePlanetaryGuy for this info!).

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute; Photojournal image PIA08166.

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