When is the First Frost?

This year (2017) the first frost at Manilla came on the 11th of May, close to the middle date for it: the 13th of May. In just half of the years, the first frost comes between ANZAC Day (the 25th of April) and the 19th of May.

Graphical record of first frost dates
(See the notes below: “Observing Frosts in Manilla.”)

The date of first frost from year to year

The graph shows the dates of first frosts in the last nineteen years. One feature stands out: from a very early date of the 4th of April in 2008, the dates got later each year to a very late date of the 8th of June in 2014. Otherwise, the dates simply jumped around.

Graphical log of frostsThe date of first frost hardly relates at all to the number of frosts in a season. This graph, copied from an earlier post, shows how poorly they match. The earliest first frost, in 2008, was in a year with a normal number of frosts. In the least frosty year, 2013, the first frost did not come late.

The central date and the spread

To find the central value and the spread of a climate item like this calls for readings for a number of years called a “Normal Period”. (See note below on Climate Normals.) I chose the first eleven years of my readings (1999 to 2009) as my Normal Period. For this period I found these five order statistics:

Lowest (earliest) value: 4th April;
First Quartile value: 25th April (ANZAC Day);
Median (middle) value: 13th May;
Third Quartile value: 19th May;
Highest (latest) value: 24th May.

These five values divide the dates of first frost into four equal groups. For example, the first frost comes before ANZAC Day in one year out of four. This could confirm what Manilla gardeners know already!

Is the first frost getting later?

Talk of global warming leads us to expect the date of first frost to get later. By how much?
Dates on the graph after 2009 seem to be later in the season than during the Normal Period. As shown, a linear trend line fitted to the data points slopes steeply down towards later dates in later years. A curved trend line (a parabola) slopes down even more steeply. However, with so few data points, these trend lines are wild guesses, not to be relied on for forecasting future frosts.
Data for NSW from 1910 shows that daily minimum temperatures have been rising at 0.11° per decade.  (That is much faster than the rate for daily maximum temperatures, which is 0.07° per decade.) To work out how this might affect the date of first frost in Manilla, one needs to know that the daily minimum temperature in this season gets lower each day by 0.15°. One day of seasonal cooling will more than cover a decade of climate warming. The effect of global warming is to make the date of first frost only one day later in fourteen years. If the middle date of first frost was the 13th of May in the Normal Period, centred on 2004, the forecast middle date of first frost next year (2018) would be the 14th of May. This is shown by the flattest of the three trend lines on the graph.

Looking ahead, it seems unlikely that the date of first frost will get later by as much as a week within a lifetime.


Notes

1. Observing Frost in Manilla

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