Mother Nature has had a lot of people stewing. This year, the stormy 2011 winter weather has been hard on everyone, but it has been devastating to farmers who grow and people who eat vegetables. Freezing temperatures have killed crops throughout Florida, Arizona, South Texas, and deep into Mexico, affecting prices in grocery markets. There go the tomatoes!
The problem is that this winter we had three different cold weather patterns hit us at once:
- The Pacific’s cold La Niña  brought chilly weather to the West.
- In the north, the negative Arctic Oscillation (AO)  allowed the freezing polar air mass to sink south, into the United States.
- To the east, the Atlantic was in the grip of a lethal weather pattern—the negative North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) that drove the cold all the way to Florida.
The result was that all of our major winter fruit and vegetable growing areas have been clobbered. The Florida crop was frozen in January, so consumers turned to supplies from Arizona and Mexico. Then in early February, Mexico and the Southwest were hit with the worst freeze in over fifty years.
The Groundhog Day blizzard killed US and Mexican tomatoes!
The major casualties of all this ugly weather have been beans, bell peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, squash, and tomatoes. And eggplants: Just try to find eggplants! The lettuce is being salvaged by stripping off the damaged outer leaves, so expect to find smaller heads at your grocery stores.
This shortage is not just in America. Globally, this has been an awful year for vegetables. Last October, the United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper was reporting a shortage of tomatoes in the Middle East, where the vegetable is a staple in the local diet. The price of tomatoes had tripled in Turkey and increased eightfold in Israel. The newspaper also reported that Egyptians were staging street protests over the cost of tomatoes.
Here’s the good news. The next harvest of vegetables should begin to appear in stores in late March. Spring is coming and the deadly weather trio is backing off: The La Niña is fading and the NAO and AO are positive.
Most of the crop supplies will be recovered by April, although you may have to wait until May for juicy beefsteak tomatoes. Meanwhile, the tough little cabbages survived everything that Mother Nature cooked up. Cole slaw, anyone?
Tell us: How has your winter been? If you're a farmer, have your crops been affected? If you're shopping for produce, have you noticed a change in the prices? Please share your comments below!
Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, blogger, writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac, and editor of The Browning Newsletter , has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.