First off of course, a Happy New Year to you all.
I say ‘happy’ but I can guess a lot of you are coming into work to be greeted by a lot of grass and a lot of moisture at your facility.
Without doubt, November and December 2015 have broken most of the weather records we probably didn’t want breaking for our industry, warmest, wettest, windiest, least sun, most consecutive days of rainfall, the list is endless and frankly a tad depressing 🙁
Nature continues to have its knickers in a collective twist with buds on a lot of trees and shrubs, spring bulbs and Hellebores in flower and most things probably 6 weeks ahead of where they should be. 4 of my 6 resident hedgehogs haven’t bothered to hibernate and are still eating me out of house and home in terms of Mealworm consumption. And while I’m on about it, bloody Paddy Power had my money again on my White Christmas bets, so it’s Paddy Power 3 and MH 2 over the last five years…Bah Bloody Humbug and all that….
Of course this weather doesn’t just affect our industry, even our own government may just be realising (you never know) that its clamber to concrete over most of the U.K isn’t without its consequences in our changing climate. As a clever (Danish) person once said … “Legislation and common sense don’t sleep in the same bed”….. I think that applies to a lot of things…
And now the weather 🙂
Sometimes I’d really wish that I didn’t have to write this blog when I can see what’s coming and I know how it’ll only make life harder for us, but we have to make the best of what admittedly is a bad lot. So let’s get it over with…
This week we have another north-south divide, particularly in terms of wind direction and temperature. I’ve already had a report in from Danemark to the effect that it’s -5°C over there with a -15°C windchill (Cheers Russell !) and that’s because they and the north of England / Scotland have a chilly easterly wind flow straight across from the Russian Steppes. For Ireland, the west and south we are stuck in a westerly / south westerly airflow still (do you know it’s been that way for the last 35 days now with only 5 from the E or SE from the start of December)
So because of the lateness of this blog (I had to do a lot of charts as you’ll see later) I’ll start with Tuesday’s weather. Tuesday sees us in the grip of an Atlantic low that at its base is pushing wet weather into the west and south of the U.K (and Ireland), but at its top is pulling in cold easterly air from the continent into Scotland and the north of England. So Tuesday sees a band of showers moving across the U.K and Ireland from west to east during the early morning. By rush hour those showers will mainly be affecting central and eastern areas of the U.K and because of the above they’ll be wintry in nature for the east coast of Scotland. During the late afternoon these showers become concentrated to two specific areas – Firstly, they’ll be a band affecting the east coast of Ireland (Leinster mainly) and Wales and secondly a line of persistent rain will be affecting the east coast of England and Scotland. Again these showers may fall as snow over Scottish coasts. Depending on where you are you’ll either have a south west wind (west, central and south) or an easterly wind (Scotland). Temperatures will vary from high single figures in the south and west to mid-single figures over Scotland, lower on eastern coasts with that cold wind.
For Wednesday we have a similar picture really as we left off from Tuesday, that is to say the bulk of the showers will be affecting eastern areas of the U.K, with Ireland looking reasonably dry (until later). As the low pressure sinks south, there is a possibility that the extent of the wintry showers will push southwards because the wind will swing round to the east over northern England and The Midlands and drag cold air down. So that means a chillier day on Wednesday for most areas. Through the afternoon, those wintry showers will push westwards into central and western areas of the U.K so possibly a touch of snow on higher elevations here. Late in the afternoon a band of heavy rain is due to make landfall in West Kerry (That place again!) and push east across Ireland during the evening so a wet Wednesday night for you guys 🙁 As hinted earlier it’ll feel pretty chilly on Wednesday with temperatures struggling to get to mid-single figures in that easterly wind. (maybe a tad higher in the far south as you have more of a south east wind)
Moving into Thursday and that band of heavy rain has cleared Ireland to give a sunny and dry start to the day (that’s the good news) but of course it has to go somewhere and that means most of the U.K will wake up to a very wet Thursday morning as that rain band moves eastwards. There’s a risk of flooding for the south west of Scotland and more in the way of wintry showers the further north and east you get. This rain band pushes across most of the U.K through Thursday accompanied by a change in the wind direction, but I’m sad to say that it looks to stay entrenched over Scotland and particularly the south west. (a bummer for you guys I know) By Thursday night it looks to have cleared most of the U.K with only the north east of Scotland picking up the tale end of this mix of rain and wintry showers.
So a clear and hence cold night for Thursday and the chance of a frost for sure as you awake on Friday morning. Friday sees a reversal of fortunes with rain crossing over Ireland into the south west and Wales during the morning and the east this time staying dry. This is primarily due to the fact that the wind is now south westerly / southerly in nature and so pushing rain into these areas first. It looks like they’ll also be a separate rain front pushing into the south coast of England through Friday morning as well and moving slowly up country. Scotland looks to start dry and stay that way through till the afternoon when that rain that has been affecting Ireland pushes into the north west of England, The Borders and later, south west Scotland. Again those showers may be wintry in nature over The Highlands and the eastern coastline of Scotland. For the south, that band of rain that pushed into the south coast of England looks to move north and east across the country through the late morning and afternoon, so a potentially wet end to the week here as well.
The outlook for the weekend looks mixed I’m afraid with rain early doors on Saturday morning for Ireland, clearing east into the west and south west of the U.K / Wales by Saturday lunchtime. This rain could be particularly heavy over the south west of England and Wales on Saturday morning. By lunchtime rain is still likely to affect Leinster and to have pushed north to affect the west coast of England and south west Scotland. Further south and east looks dull and dry, but this rain is pushing eastwards so during the afternoon, Ireland and the west clear it and central and eastern areas receive it ! Again we see this rain falling as wintry showers over higher altitudes in Scotland. Sunday looks to start wet for eastern areas but this rain will soon clear to leave a day of broken sunshine, yes note that word, sunshine. So Sunday looks to be the better day of the weekend for most (but not all) but they’ll still be some rain affecting the west coast of Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland. The north will feel a little milder though as the wind swings round to the south west for most areas. Temperatures will be a little up on the lows of the week, high single figures in most areas, maybe touching 10°C in the Costa Del South 🙂
So how are we shaping up as we march through to mid-January, is there any drier weather in sight ?
Yes and no is the short answer……Next week looks to start off with that unsettled theme still in place with showers affecting principally western areas for Monday. Later on Monday a sneaky little intense low looks to pass close to the south of England so that could bring some heavy rain along the south coast later on Monday. This low will push rain (potentially heavy) into south east and eastern areas on Tuesday. As it passes east it’ll pull in much colder, northerly air to the west and all areas by mid-week so we should be a bit drier and a good bit colder. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see snow across the west of Ireland, Wales and the south west of England by mid-week, next week. So a colder air stream, but not a totally dry one as I still think they’ll be some rain and wintry showers along western coasts later on next week. For central and eastern areas though you may end up getting some dry, cold days and with a northerly air stream it’ll feel pretty cold, but let’s face it, we need this cold weather to re-set nature. By the end of next week, it looks like the wind will swing back south westerly and we’ll be back into milder and unfortunately wetter air.
How 2015 played out….
First off let’s deal with why we’re looking in most places at a lot of grass and a lot of saturated turf. November and December turned up to be the mildest on record temperature-wise and this has driven grass growth in a way that we haven’t seen before. (I think)
I know a lot of people quote previously cold years like 1947 and say it was really mild then in November and December before winter started in earnest in January. The truth is it wasn’t ever as mild for as long in those months. I know because I spent some of Christmas looking at the archive data for that period and although it was mild on the odd day, they didn’t have prolonged mild temperatures.
I also have heard from more than one person (particularly in the south of the U.K) that the temperature recorded on the shortest day in 2015 (Dec 22nd) was the same as the temperature on the longest day (June 21st) in 2015. It was 16°C maximum air temperature.
Here’s where GDD and Growth Potential really come into their own in my view in helping us equate what we know was a really mild month in terms of grass growth and what you guys (and girls of course) have to maintain….So let’s look at the Growth Potential data for December 2015 and see how it shaped up vs. previous years…(The data location is Northampton by the way…thanks Rob)
So by looking at G.P data for the month and comparing it we can see that grass growth in December 2015 for this location was pretty much three times what it normally is in this month. Amazing eh ?
Breaking down the data we can see how the growth pattern played out through the month and you can clearly see the end of month growth flush as well that has made maintenance a real issue for some..
It gets better…..If you look at 2015 as a whole year we can see that both November and December 2015 generated more grass growth than either March or April of the same year.
So there’s the answer to the first question i.e Why have we got some much grass growth on the golf course, sportsfield and why nature is so far ahead.
Of course in an ideal world that growth would come during conditions that allow it to be maintained but here’s the snag. Warm air in the winter is moist air and that means rain. You’ve all seen the effects of the record rainfall in the north east / west of England and the east / south west of Scotland, but even in areas that haven’t received significantly above-average rainfall (like here in The Midlands or the south east of England) what we saw in November and December was a higher daily frequency of rain and very few dry days.
The comparison above graphically illustrates the west-east divide when it comes to rainfall and what’s more you can clearly see the months when the jet stream was pushing moist air into Ireland and the west of the U.K. November and December were two such months and though the total figure is high for this location in South Wales (423mm combined for Nov and Dec), it isn’t a patch on what they got further north. To illustrate this, here’s a picture taken on the 28th December, kindly sent in by Adrian Kay from York Racecourse, you can see the bend on the race course mid-picture…
So we have a triple whammy, 3 times the grass growth, record rainfall for some areas and fewer drying days for us all. The upshot is that many facilities are looking at long areas of grass particularly after the Christmas period when it’s been difficult to get anything other than a low level of maintenance achieved. (And even if resource were available, it wasn’t practically feasible to cut then anyway because of the rainfall)
There are some positives, in that more grass growth in wear areas does mean better recovery over a period of the year when these areas generally suffer. That said I do feel that the high levels of moisture have somewhat negated this advantage.
Looking ahead we have a drop in temperatures so we won’t be seeing the types of growth levels we have been. Meteoturf (above) is showing a (more normal for January) daily G.P of 0.1, rather than the 0.7 we achieved in December. So that means growth will pretty much shut down now and in my books that’s no bad thing….
What lessons have we learnt from November and December ?
I for one would never have envisaged seeing so much warmth, so late in the year and for such a prolonged period. Whether this is related to El Nino or not I don’t know but I thought all the indications were for a lower-lying jet stream, not a stronger jet stream in an El Nino event, so maybe it’s unrelated ?
The late usage of PGR’s on outfield turf
For sure we have to look at the timing and use of growth regulators in a new light because making a late application of a PGR onto higher height of cut turf would certainly have made sense in late October. Particularly when you consider the fact that if you tank-mixed in iron you’d have been able to keep much better colour for longer. (Not that colour was in short supply in terms of grass growth / appearance). There are other benefits though other than just reducing cutting frequency.
Without doubt the end of 2015 produced the longest period of casting worms that I can remember. It kicked off early with another wet August (becoming a calendar feature now) and has kept going right through to the new year. One of the big issues as we all know is having to cut fairways / outfield areas because of growth when you already have a high level of worm casts present and the subsequent smearing that it creates on the turf surface. Of course if you manage to reduce your cutting requirements by applying a PGR then that makes life easier. Now as we all know to achieve a significant reduction in growth means a higher rate application, especially on outfield turf which is likely to have a high % of ryegrass present (the grass species least affected by TE), but it may be something that you’ll have to budget for if this weather pattern becomes more the norm.
Similar to the situation with casting worms, we have seen possibly the longest prolonged period of disease activity on fine turf with respect to Microdochium nivale. I’d still maintain that the key period of activity when the main damage is done is October to mid-November and that after this what you tend to see is re-activity on older scars as opposed to significant new activity. In all I think we have managed to hold disease at bay on the whole, though I have heard the usual multiple-application horror stories. I think this is partly to do with better-timed applications, partly with enhanced re-growth in scar-affected turf due to the higher soil and air temperatures and mainly because we have some very effective fungicide chemistries available to us. The latter is a changing situation though and I think we will see the loss of some of those chemistries through the next 12 months, but hopefully on the flip side we will see new chemistries coming through that will remain for longer because they’ve passed current legislation requirements.
The rub for us though in the amenity sector is that we are small beer for the chemical manufacturers and so getting investment in new chemistries or maintaining existing ones is a tall order when you take into account the amount of hectares maintained in amenity vs. agriculture.
Organic Matter Levels
With the last two months showing enhanced levels of growth far in excess of what we’d normally see one can only imagine that this will have a knock-on effect when it comes to the production of organic matter. Now this in part will be balanced out by a longer period of microbial activity / breakdown of organic matter due to warmer soil temperatures, but once the rootzone becomes saturated and oxygen levels are depleted, you can kiss microbial activity goodbye. (well the right sort anyway)
So it is likely in my mind that we will be carrying higher levels of organic matter into the spring and that is going to make life tricky in some areas. Now at present I accept 100% that there aren’t many facilities where it would be practically feasible to do what I’m going to suggest next, but I’m merely making the point and the case for early season aeration. (as I do ever year :))
By early season aeration I mean hollow coring in January and February if (and it’s a big ‘if’ I accept) a weather window presents itself. I’m a big fan of undertaking this type of work at this time of year, principally because it’s at a low revenue part of the year so less likelihood of complaints. You can go with good size tines (12mm) and therefore impact a good % of the surface and even in the hardest winter we’ve had so far, experience has shown us that recovery has been fine. I accept you won’t be topdressing immediately afterwards so the holes will be open but you will have ticked a box for significant organic matter removal.
Referring again to the the graphs (immediately above) showing monthly growth potential and rainfall for 2015, you can see that the more traditional time of year to remove organic matter (March / April) were either cool or dry and cool, so in other words really poor conditions to get good recovery from aeration. So if it’s possible weather and ground conditions-wise, I’d try to get in a good hollow coring early, then you can afford to go with a smaller tine at close spacings (for quicker recovery) in March or April and by then you’ll also have benefit of follow-up topdressing to get your surface back sooner.
GDD and Rainfall Data for 2015
I have had some great GDD data bounce into my inbox today whilst I have been putting together this blog but I’m going to cover it next week as I think there’s only so much information I can chuck at you on a weekly basis (that’s my excuse anyway and I’m sticking to it)
I’d like to say thanks to the regular contributors as you make my job so much easier, so cheers to all of you and please remember to keep those 2015 rainfall totals coming by sending your information to firstname.lastname@example.org
All the best.