Warm Weather Screwing Up Everything

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OK, maybe not everything, but it’s definitely having an effect — and not the good kind.

First off, just last week and the week before hundreds of locations across the U.S. set record high temperatures. Internationally, it’s warm too — Scotland yesterday set a new high temperature of 22.8 Celsius (73F) for not only the day but for the month of March. An early spring, but also a relatively mild winter for many U.S. regions anxious for snowfall. My cousin in Vermont is a skier and we’ve exchanged many emails over the past several months about the missing snow (a cousin in Massachusetts, on the other hand, has had more than enough). My aunt and uncle have a house on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire and we shared a few emails about the New England Pond Hockey Classic. In years past the NEPHC was held on Winnipesaukee, but this year it was moved to another New Hampshire lake because the ice near Meredith just wasn’t thick enough. (Read my previous article about the NEPHC here.) Just last week Lake Winnipesaukee recorded its earliest ever ice-out.

The annual National Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates the blooming of the trees along the Tidal Basin of Washington, D.C. Photo: Wikipedia

The Mid-Atlantic states have been on the receiving end of unusually warm weather. In Washington D.C. you may have heard that the famed cherry trees bloomed earlier than expected. Fortunately the National Cherry Blossom Festival runs for about a month, though even by the first day of the festival the blooming was already well underway. This year’s peak bloom (March 20-23) tied for third in the all-time earliest bloom category; 1990’s March 15 peak bloom is the earliest ever. Did you know the Washington cherry blossoms turn 100 years old this year? 3,020 trees were given to the U.S. as a gift from the Japanese in 1912 and the trees went to Sakura Park in New York City as well as Washington, D.C. where they line the Tidal Basin. For a period in the early 1980s I lived in the D.C. area while stationed at Andrews Air Force Base and later in western Maryland — I’m sorry to say I never took advantage of my time there to visit the Tidal Basin at this time of year.

An early spring is unpleasant news for allergy sufferers. Here are some common ailments and treatments.

The problem with an early bloom is not that it throws tourists off-balance (the National Cherry Blossom Festival draws a tremendous crowd), but that it exposes the blooms to a late-season frost. Previous snows of 2003 and 2007 didn’t harm the blooms and even last year’s sub-freezing temperatures left tourists chilled but the blooms spectacular. Experts recommend bringing your potted cherry trees indoors for the winter or taking steps to winterize your outside trees.

The early warm-up also reached into the northern states. The maple sap is flowing earlier in Vermont and New Hampshire, so maple syrup production is ramping up earlier. Michigan has an asparagus problem: the warm weather is causing the stems to already shoot skyward. One problem is that a late-season frost could destroy the crop, but another problem is that the migrant labor force is not yet on hand to harvest millions of pounds of asparagus. Without the workers, the early vitamin-rich vegetable may have to be mowed down. According to Wikipedia, the U.S. is the number one importer of asparagus and the number three producer. Surprisingly (to me), China is by far the world’s largest producer of asparagus — 5.9 million tonnes, as compared to 90,000 tonnes in the U.S.

Maple syrup: Over the winter, starches in maple trees convert to sugar and rise in the sap during the spring. Maple trees are tapped each late winter/early spring and the sap is boiled down to syrup (it can take as much as 52 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup). Photo: Wikipedia

Blooms bring the birds and the bees, but what effect does an early bloom have? What about pollination? What about the food chain? When the birds are hungry will the insects be ready? Might the birds arrive after the blooms and miss their ideal feeding time? Will the bees come out of their hives in time to pollinate? They are (out of their hives), but a late-season freeze could devastate the bees and their critical pollination mission. Many other regions across the country have been in the throes of an early spring and this creates regional issues everywhere.

On the Gulf Coast, one of the joys of an extended freeze is the killing-off of many seasonal bugs, most notably the mosquito, of which there are 55 varieties in Houston alone. Without a freeze, the mosquitoes seem not only more numerous but stronger and hungrier. But does an early warmup mean West Nile Virus will come earlier and be more widespread? Though prevalent on the Gulf Coast, West Nile has been reported in 47 states, as well as Africa, Europe, the Middle East and western and central Asia.

An early warmup has even coined the term Early Spring Disease relating to how an early warming of the soil can bring diseases to lawns and turfs earlier than normal. Ask your local golf course superintendent about the affects of the early warming and if there’s been a need for earlier and more often application of fungicides.

You can locate your plant and insect problems, by region, here.

"Caddyshack's" Carl Spackler had other things to worry about than Early Spring Disease affecting his greens and fairways. Photo: Stogied

Scientists writing for the Journal of Climate report an arrival of buds and blooms 1.5 days earlier, on average, per decade based on records kept since 1950. Other scientists, based on the records kept by Henry David Thoreau, have noted the earlier arrival of some eastern Massachusetts species of up to 10 days, as compared to 150 years ago. Was Mr. Thoreau the first to study such things? Though best known for his book, “Walden,” his writings on nature and his surrounding environment have proved of lasting value.

When should you plant? The USDA and the National Arboretum has their Plant Hardiness Zone map here.

Based on the detailed records of devoted naturalist Henry David Thoreau, scientists have noted the annual appearance of certain species of 10 days earlier, on average, than 150 years ago. Photo: Wikipedia

Perhaps the word of this early springtime period should be “phenology” — the study of nature’s calendar and, more specifically, when the first occurrence of biological events happens in their annual cycle. These events would include  first blooms, first emergence of migratory birds, the timing of the honeybees, the laying of eggs — all of which are based on the change of seasons, the arrival of warmth, the departure of cold. Perhaps the hot profession of the coming decades will be phenology.

Honeybees and pollen - a match made in heaven. Click for awesome larger image. Photo: Wikipedia

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