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Friday, April 14, 2017

Warmer Winters, Earlier Springs and Climate Change

We just finished one of the warmest winters on record, where 84% of U.S. weather stations recorded a warmer than usual winder. Now, we’re in the middle of yet another early spring.

Spring forward

Early springs may become more common in future years. Climate change is expected to shorten winters by about three weeks by the start of the next century. If this year were the norm, we’d be there already.

This year, spring arrived about 28 days earlier in the Southeast. Washington, D.C.’s famous cherry blossoms hit their peak bloom in mid-March—unfortunately, right as a late snowstorm blanketed the East with snow and ice, causing widespread damage to the blossoms.

The map below is a snapshot of the northward march of spring as it appeared on March 14. The map charted the annual spring bloom happening about 20 days earlier than normal across a huge swath of the country—the areas shown in burgundy.

Like an unwelcome guest at a dinner party, spring rang the doorbell early in parts of California, Nevada and Colorado, along with Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia.

Climate Change and Weather

So what’s to blame for our shifting seasons?

According to Time magazine, scientists lay the blame mostly on climate change, with a few other shorter-term weather patterns thrown in. While science can’t draw a straight line between climate change and this year’s early spring, one researcher told the magazine that not doing so would be like telling a person who’d smoked for 30 years that their lung cancer couldn’t be linked to cigarettes.

And aside from bothering allergy sufferers, what’s the big deal about an early spring? After all, who doesn’t mind wearing shorts in February? But the problem goes deeper than comfort and convenience. Much of the natural world revolves around the seasons. And when things repeatedly don’t go as expected, nature’s balance gets thrown off.

The Truth About False Spring

Timing in nature is everything. In spring, the flowers and trees bloom, the insects collect the nectar, and in turn the birds, bees, bats and butterflies pollinate the flowers. If the plants bloom before the insects show up, pollination won’t happen. And the birds who timed their arrival to coincide with the hatch of insects will find slim pickings at the bug buffet.

When the lines between winter and spring blur, many plants and animals struggle to adapt. Seeds that germinate during a warm February may die in a March frost. Remember those D.C. cherry blossoms? While some plants respond to the cue of longer days, the cherry trees take their cue from the warmth. This “false spring” then made the blossoms vulnerable to mid-March’s cold, snow and ice.

False springs harm plants and the animals that depend on them, sometimes affecting entire ecosystems. Rocky Mountain marmots have emerged only to discover the food they depend on for survival buried beneath the snow. Butterflies in the Sierra Nevada of California have shed their cocoons in springlike warmth and then died in a hard freeze.

And false springs are just as bad for business. A false spring followed by a killing frost in 2012 hit fruit and vegetable growers in Michigan alone by $500 million. Last year, a February cold snap on the heels of mild temperatures wiped out much of the peach crop in New England, New York and New Jersey.

What’s in store for summer?

Weather researchers predict that record warmth will continue to become even more common as greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere.

The long-term forecast for the spring and summer forecasts a 40-to-5o percent probability of higher-than-normal temperatures throughout most of the East and Midwest, according to the NOAA/National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center. The forecast for rain is much more uncertain. There are equal chances for rainfall to be above, below or at normal. One exception is New England, where the weather service predicts a higher chance of warmer and wetter weather this summer.

One way to counter the effects of global climate change is to switch from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy. Talk to CleanChoice Energy about how easy is to reduce your impact on the environment.

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