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January-February 2014

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The Big Freeze: Frost's Costly Impact on Agriculture

Despite great advances in technology, agriculture is still extremely dependent on the weather. Drought can reduce yields and, at its worst, wipe out entire crops. But drought and the effects it has on plants take time to develop. On the other hand, a freeze is a swift killer. Overnight a crop can be destroyed. Sometimes it just takes a few hours. The economic losses due to a widespread freeze event can be enormous. Direct crop losses can exceed a billion dollars. According to the National Climatic Data Center, five of the billion-dollar weather disasters over the past 30 years have been caused by agricultural freezes. In addition, the increase in prices on scarce goods redirects consumer spending. We also have to include the costs of frost prevention measures and frost insurance.

ED BROTAK is a retired professor of atmospheric sciences from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. Now a freelance writer, his specialties include agricultural meteorology, wildfire weather, and aviation weather hazards.

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