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Dimovi

Sabal surviving 4°F in Austin, freezes in Miami and the next palmpocalypse

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Dimovi

I looked at some depressing statistics (https://www.currentresults.com/Yearly-Weather/USA/extreme-annual-usa-index-low-temperature.php) and it seems like every few decades most palm trees from Texas to Florida would get nuked. Maybe just Sabals would survive. I was shocked to find out that even Miami has experienced freezes in the past. In 1989 the temperatures in Austin reached 4°F, Houston 9°F and Miami 30°F. This also does not seem to be the only such event, in 1949 temps got down to -2°F in Austin, 0°F in San Antonio and in 1899 there was even a colder blast that brought snow to Florida. What I don't understand how it is possible for old Sabal Mexicanas that I see around Austin to have survived this kind of temperatures. There are lots of trees that are definitely much older than 30 years.

I've looked at recent warming trends and it seems like they are about 2°F since 1940, and even the most extreme projections are only a few degrees in the coming decades.

So, is the milder weather due to something else or are we destined to experience this kind of weather again?

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Steve in Florida

Congratulations for taking the time to familiarize yourself with past historical cycles.  When it gets really cold palms die or defoliate.  The hardiest ones do the latter and provide a better seed source for future generations.

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kinzyjr
8 minutes ago, Dimovi said:

So, is the milder weather due to something else or are we destined to experience this kind of weather again?

There are other people who know WAY more about meteorology than me, but this is the way I currently understand the answer to your question:

Weather systems on the earth are affected by a myriad of factors including solar output, continent configuration, presence of water or mountains to either modify air masses or block the coldest air, elevation, latitude, ocean currents, etc.  The systems themselves move in cycles, typically considered in intervals of 10, 30, 50, 100, 500, 1000 years and beyond.  If you hear 1989 referred to as a 100-year freeze, it means that once a century, you can expect a similar type event once in a century on average.  In the 1980s, it seems like we had quite a few "once in a lifetime" freezes, so there is no guarantee that an arbitrary classification system is correct.  Zones are typically representative of 30 year events.  Can you expect to experience a similar event?  If you live long enough, probably:bummed:

Florida experiences snow more often than you might think: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_in_Florida

Here are a few possible explanations about the Sabal mexicana:

  • There are some that are hardy enough to survive those temperatures (same as the Sabal palmetto that survived -11F in AL or Washingtonia filifera that survive below 0F)
  • There are microclimates that did not experience that temperature
  • There was a complete kill in some areas, but they are repopulated after hard freezes by birds, etc.
  • The low temperature in question was not present long enough to chill the bud to the point of killing the palm - defoliation but not death.
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NorCalKing

This is another example of the east/south eastern US getting screwed. Here on the West coast at my 37°N location our coldest temperature ever recorded is 18°. All over Europe at the same latitude you never see the horrible cold we experience on our East coast.

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Dimovi
17 hours ago, Steve in Florida said:

Congratulations for taking the time to familiarize yourself with past historical cycles.  When it gets really cold palms die or defoliate.  The hardiest ones do the latter and provide a better seed source for future generations.

I've had defoliation and one robusta died about 10 years ago during temperatures in the high teens, but the extremes I see on record are far from that point. We are talking about St. Louis like temperatures, which nobody thinks it is suitable for any trunking palms. I don't see how any palm trees can survive these temperatures. Maybe these cold snaps last only hours, not enough to chill a tree with a lot of mass, so that is probably how most mexicanas and filiferas made it through these temps.

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Dimovi
2 hours ago, NorCalKing said:

This is another example of the east/south eastern US getting screwed. Here on the West coast at my 37°N location our coldest temperature ever recorded is 18°. All over Europe at the same latitude you never see the horrible cold we experience on our East coast.

Yes, California is lucky to have the Pacifistic ocean on one side and the Rockies on the other. The Great Plains are "great" for bringing polar blasts from the north without any obstacles. Besides the issue of not having any mountains in the mid west, we also have no "warm" oceans north. The Arctic ocean has no good path to channel tropical waters as there are no large passages from Russia to Greenland. That't why you can have palm trees in Britain but not in Winnipeg :). To top it off most of the Canadian Archipelago is mostly frozen over, which acts more like land in the winter with no good thermal exchange between the ocean and the air.

I am thinking that although global warming will have negative impacts throughout the coastal and arid regions of the world, one positive thing that scientist project is milder mid west weather perhaps as the arctic archipelago north of Canada melts. Though this is not exactly certain and there are contradicting projections.

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Dimovi
18 hours ago, kinzyjr said:

Zones are typically representative of 30 year events.

Yes, that I know, and I find to be rather silly way for USDA to determine cold hardiness zones as palm trees (and other real trees) don't care about the average extreme lows. When I average the extreme lows over the last 30 years Austin is at 23F even when including 1989 it is 22F, so maybe next USDA cold hardiness map will put it in 9a instead of the current 8b, but all the Queens I am pushing are almost certainly doomed.

18 hours ago, kinzyjr said:

There are some that are hardy enough to survive those temperatures (same as the Sabal palmetto that survived -11F in AL or Washingtonia filifera that survive below 0F)

This is what I was guessing. The palms I see are not shielded or in a micro-climate. I am guessing that because of their massive size, it takes a while for the trunk to freeze, so probably the cold snap was short and the damage limited to the foliage.

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Steve in Florida

The non-trunking palmetto in North Alabama completely defoliated down to it's growth point because the ground froze.  It took 2 years to produce above ground leaves and it later grew back it's full crown of leaves.  A nearby Sabal minor did the same.    If the palmetto had an above ground trunk and growth point it would have perished in the cold.

Edited by Steve in Florida
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Dimovi
2 hours ago, Steve in Florida said:

The non-trunking palmetto in North Alabama completely defoliated down to it's growth point because the ground froze.  It took 2 years to produce above ground leaves and it later grew back it's full crown of leaves.  A nearby Sabal minor did the same.    If the palmetto had an above ground trunk and growth point it would have perished in the cold

Well, this is what I would expect. That is why I was very surprised to find out that in 1989 the temperature in Austin dropped to 4F. The picture below is from 2001, Mayfield park in Austin, almost exactly 12 years after the cold snap of 1989. The Sabals in the picture are definitely older than 12 years. Today 20 years later most of them are only bit taller as their growth has slowed to a crawl.

DSCF0034.jpg

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necturus

Sabal mexicana is very hardy. Some even feel it’s tougher than palmetto. Are there any Washingtonia of either species in Austin that survived the 80s? I doubt it. In contrast, there are at least some filifera in Houston that hail from that era. 

Good luck with your queens, but I wouldn’t expect a lot of time with them. I have been all over Austin over the past 15 years or so and the only one that’s lasted a long time is the one at The Great Outdoors. And that’s a pretty protected spot. Queens can be iffy even in Houston after all. A lot of them died here in 2009-2010 and 2016-2017.

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Dimovi
3 hours ago, necturus said:

Are there any Washingtonia of either species in Austin that survived the 80s? I doubt it.

I am certain there are a bunch of Sabals maxicanas and Washingtonia filiferas that made it through the 89 cold snap. The picture above was taken 12 years after the freeze, and these Sabals are way older than 12 years, they don't even begin to trunk for 6 years. I have a 20 year old Sabal which is half the size of these.

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