Spring Leaf Index Anomaly, 2 March 2018. Graphic: National Phenology Network

By Angela Fritz
27 February 2018

(The Washington Post) – For the second year in a row, spring has sprung early. In the Mid-Atlantic, cherry blossoms started to pop out of their buds in mid-February, and the crocuses have all but come and gone. Temperatures have dipped below freezing on only five mornings this February in the District, and nature is playing along — albeit, perhaps, grudgingly.

As much as spring is welcome when it arrives, it seems to feel better after a long winter. This year, winter never really started. December and January both got off to a cold start, but that quickly changed through the end of those months. By mid-February, we saw March flowers pop out of the ground. Winter is dead.

According to the National Phenology Network, spring is running 20 days or more ahead of schedule in parts of the Ohio River Valley and the Mid-Atlantic. That will soon be the case in the Midwest and the Northeast.

This is not surprising. In fact, it is exactly what we should expect as the climate warms, according to myriad peer-reviewed studies summarized succinctly by the 2017 National Climate Assessment. In technical terms, the growing season in North America is getting longer. You may also see it referred to as “frost-free” days, since the growing season is the span of time between the last frost and the first frost.

A longer growing season sounds great, especially given the dire warnings of food shortages resulting from climate change. Hang on, though, because a longer growing season is not always a good thing. The longer growing season is inherently related to food shortages. Really.

We can see it happening even now. “Plant productivity has not increased” alongside the number of growing season days, according to the National Climate Assessment. There are a number of reasons for this. [more]

Spring is running 20 days early. It’s exactly what we expect, but it’s not good.

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