It’s not you. Spring is arriving earlier and earlier each year and mounting climate science supports this unnerving fact. Since 1960, spring, at least in North America, has been arriving 1.1 days earlier each decade. In western portions of North America, spring is arriving particularly early – 1.5 days earlier per decade.
So what does this mean beyond earlier blooming flowers and warmer spring temperatures? Clearly, climate change is at play here and milder winters and shorter springs that blur quickly into summer have much larger ramifications not only for the climate, but for the animals and plants that have adapted to specific seasonal patterns for survival.
Birds, for example, are triggered to migrate based on a combination of interrelated factors – mainly food and a change in season. While some species will remain local given a reliable food source (a bird feeder for example), most birds will migrate thousands of miles each year to find food, mate, raise young and start the cycle all over again. As climate change alters the weather patterns of the Earth, one of the biggest concerns with migrating species is that the animal will arrive to its destination early, or late, and will inevitably miss blooming seasons essential to its survival. With spring arriving one to three weeks early this year, many birds, in addition to other migratory animals such as butterflies and caribou, will be impacted.
Plants, like animals, are particularly susceptible to a changing climate. Many trees will be triggered to bud and blossom earlier if temperatures are high, but could then die or be significantly damaged for the season should the temperatures suddenly drop back down. Cities like Chicago are not taking newfound weather patterns lightly with respect to urban trees. In fact, the windy city recently added a mass of new street trees to their planting roster, replacing many classic maples with the American sweet gum, which can withstand hotter temperatures and is native to southeastern portions of the United States.
Northern states like Vermont are not only feeling the visual impact of changing weather patterns, but the economic impacts as well. Maple syrup production, a major market and tourist force in the state, was down significantly this spring due to particularly warm temperatures during the peak of sugaring.
Massachusetts, currently in a drought due to little snow fall this winter, experienced near 90 degree temperatures for the Boston Marathon on April 16th, sending hundreds of athletes to local hospitals for heat exhaustion. Allergies and other health-related concerns are also on the rise in the general population given the overall shift in seasons and weather.
While extreme weather can happen at any time, it’s important to realize the fragile ecosystem relationships at stake with a changing climate. It’s easy to focus on ourselves, but humans are not the only ones impacted by weather pattern disruption — this change has sweeping implications for everything on Earth. Indeed, spring 2012 has been an exceptional season weather-wise thus far across much of the country and it’s only a precursor to summer 2012, which surely holds in store some additional heat.
Photo Credit: Martin Hirtreiter