SNYDER COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — The abc27 weather team is anticipating this winter to be one of the top 10 warmest on record. This includes the third warmest January on record and a current stretch of February days that are averaging 15 degrees warmer than average during the afternoons. With maple syrup season underway, chief meteorologist Eric Finkenbinder visited one the the Midstate’s sugar shacks.

Shade Stone Farm, named for the mountain behind the property, is a maple syrup and livestock farm in Beaver Spring, Pennsylvania.

“We have trees up to the top of this first ridge, 131 acres and we probably have 70 in woods, and that’s where the maples are,” said Jon Plasterer, owner of Shade Stone Farm.

Sugar maple trees are native to Pennsylvania, but they are not densely populated until you get into colder parts of the state.

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“We’re about an hour north of Harrisburg, and in that area, we are kind of on that southern edge of the sugarbush of Pennsylvania,” said Plasterer. “We are situated on the north side of Shade Mountain, in a little bit of a hollow, so a lot of the cold air sits down in this hollow so we kept a lot of our maple trees.”

Shade Stone Farm’s sugar shack is relatively new, but it has all the necessary parts to evaporate the maple sap into a natural, sugary syrup, all with sustainable solar power and renewable resources that run the evaporator throughout the winter.

But what affects a maple sap harvest?

“So, your season is really governed by two factors: the weather for one. When the nights are cold and the days warm, and the other is when you actually drill that first hole,” Plasterer said.

Peak sugar season is typically from mid-February until the end of March.

As soon as the hole is drilled and the tap is inserted in the tree, it takes about six weeks until the tree heals at the tap, sealing the opening and preventing additional sap flow. During those six weeks, weather conditions are critical in producing the quantity and quality of the sap that will eventually become syrup.

“When the ground freezes nice and hard for several weeks we will see the concentration of sugar in the sap increase,” added Plasterer.

Variations on a year-by-year basis can cause changes in the maple syrup itself.

“This year when we pull sap out we normally see about two percent sugar in that sap. This year we are only getting about one percent sugar in the sap. That’s because we only had a week of good solid ground freeze. So that means we’ll essentially have to cook twice as much sap to get the same amount of syrup,” said Plasterer.

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Concerned about this year’s warm winter, Shade Stone Farm decided to tap half of their trees in January. Even the coldest month of the year struggled to drop below freezing to create ideal sap flow.

“Not only do you need those freezing nights and warm days, that creates a barometric pressure differential in the trees. And that’s what actually causes the sap to flow up and down the trees,” added Plasterer.

Now that we are entering the peak of syrup season, Plasterer’s family is tapping the rest of their trees this week.

“It has been quite variable. That’s probably the biggest thing we noticed. It’s almost so changeable that it’s almost hard to say what a typical season is anymore,” concluded Plasterer.

Pennsylvania is experiencing what’s expected to be one of the state’s top ten warmest winters on record in 2023, all thanks to the Commonwealth’s third warmest January.

February is expected to act as an extension of the January pattern and could be one of the warmest in Pennsylvania’s history as well.

Although some of us could do without a cold winter, some rely on the winter temperatures.

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The next two weeks will be challenging for maple syrup producers with temperatures remaining about 10 to 20 degrees warmer than average, but the end of February could bring some colder days.

Shade Stone Farm will have an open house and tour during the first weekend of March. For more information, visit their website at