OSU Extension Geauga County
This looks like a cold one going into the first part of the season. I do not believe we will see many trees tapped during the month of January. That being said, there are always a few hardy souls in Southern Ohio that venture out into the cold, trying to tap before m Mr. Ground Hog leaves his burrow.
Looking at the 30 day forecast maps by NOAA Weather for the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes, the forecast is for more of the same. The weather pattern that has been bringing waves of cold air into the region all winter, appears to be staying in place. We can expect very short warm ups between these low pressure systems. What has set this year apart form other similarly cold winters, is the extreme cold caused by the polar vortex drifting farther south than normal. Some agricultural forecasters are predicting this pattern of below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation to continue through mid-March, with the above normal precipitation continuing for 60 to 90 days. The one thing to remember is that predicting weather more than 5 days in advance is a very inexact science.
In a normal year the low temperatures at the start of February would be, lows in the twenties and highs into the mid-forties. This sets up a well-defined freeze thaw pattern. This pattern does not setup in New England until early March. Their season typically runs through April. Ohio is about a month earlier. If we continue with a prolonged period of cold weather running through most of February, this could have an impact on the season. That would happen only if the weather remained cold and then suddenly warmed up and stayed warm. We saw that in 2009. In 2008 we were cold right into the first part of March with heavy snow. In 2008 we made 125,000 gallons in Ohio. No matter how hard you try, you cannot completely forecast a maple sugaring season. The only weather that counts is the weather that occurs from the time you put the tap in the tree to the time you pull it out. All you can do is get ready and tap when Mother Nature gives you the green light.
This year, early tappers will, most likely, will be tapping into frozen wood. This is very different than the last two seasons which were very mild and producers tapped under unfrozen conditions. Frozen wood presents a few problems. The first thing you need is a very sharp bit. There is more resistance in frozen conditions. The bit will also dull down quicker, requiring a change in bits from time to time. Today many companies make bits that are designed to drill under frozen conditions. This is a very common practice in Canada and the Canadians drive the market. Because it takes little extra force you need to take care and not drill an oblong hole. Producers also need to be very careful when setting the spout. It is very easy to split frozen wood and cause a leak at the top and bottom of the whole. Either one of these conditions can cause vacuum leaks. You need to steady your drill hand and go straight in allowing the drill to do the work. Then tap in the spout very carefully. If you are tapping in frozen wood you will probably need to go back and check the taps once the wood thaws out. Reset where needed. There is a little extra work required when tapping early but you know what they say about the early bird. In this case no worm, but a lot more sap.