Cold temps headed this way

LAWRENCEVILLE - Two weeks ago, there were record highs. This weekend, expect record lows.

On March 25, the mercury hit 87 degrees at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of the highest temperatures ever recorded in March and a record high for that day.

But this Easter weekend, those new springtime dresses will be hidden under layers of coats and scarves.

Temperatures could be as low as 25 degrees in Gwinnett on Sunday morning, National Weather Service Meteorologist Steve Nelson said. The previous low for April 8, in 1886, was 32 degrees. Records have been kept in Atlanta since 1878.

"That's not normal," he said. "It's been many, many years since we've seen it go back and forth in two weeks like that. Most likely, we're going to shatter the record for Easter Sunday."

The cold weather will start today, with low temperatures just above freezing early this morning. In the coming days, those temperatures will continue to drop and Nelson said Gwinnett will not see temperatures in the 70s again until Wednesday.

A freeze watch will be in effect tonight, Saturday night and into Sunday morning.

David Stooksbury, the state climatologist, said Georgia has a tendency to get a cold outbreak in early April.

"If you're going to sunrise services Sunday morning, it's going to be cold," he said. "It's hard not to get excited and get out there and put out summertime gardens, but I'd wait a week."

Randy Kucera, who owns Randy's Perennials and Water Gardens in Lawrenceville, said many people were lured to start planting by March's warm temperatures. So far, he said, this has been his busiest year in the store's 20-year history.

Thursday, business had dropped 75 percent when people realized there was a possibility of frost, he said.

Nelson said Thursday that while parts of Gwinnett may frost for an hour or so early today, the real danger for frost is throughout the rest of the weekend.

The best way to save newly planted annuals and vegetables with tender leaves is to cover them with a sheet or blanket, Kucera said. Watering plants well before the freeze will also help insulate their roots.

Any potted or hanging plants should be brought inside, and if plants are damaged by frost, the damaged parts should be cut off after a week.

Kucera said the warm weather made people antsy to start their gardens, but that the late freeze should be expected in the region.

"Never plant before Easter," he said. "Spring fever hit and everybody's going nuts. ... The first week of March, it started getting warm and people have been planting like crazy."

Next year, Kucera said, people will not need the warning. But as more time passes between freezes, they will again forget the possibility of cold temperatures.

Nelson, of the National Weather Service, said early warm temperatures do not mean winter is over. Even though there was only one cold day in March - March 4 had a high temperature of 47 degrees - this weekend's arctic air mass is left over from earlier winter weather in Canada and elsewhere.

"It's a very large cold air mass," he said. "It's harder and harder to break record temperatures when we keep adding a year and decades go by."