Since man has been recording temperatures in this region never has the month of March been so warm. Temperatures well into the 70′s, about 30 degrees above average, have consumed the entire week. Our flora has been fooled into thinking spring has arrived and has responded with flowers, buds, and the greening of grass. Next week promises to take back this fantasy. The weather forecasters predict highs in the lower 30′s in mid-week, with lows in the teens.
This type of deep freeze will wreak havoc on those plants that were fooled. Flowers will be lost, the future of fruits born from these flowers will be dashed. Leaf buds will suffer, but are better prepared for the unpredictable nature of a New England spring. If buds have not broken, the leaves will likely form in a semi-normal state. The buds that have broken, a good example being the ubiquitous red maple, will yield damaged leaves. The leaves may recover with time and fully perform their photosynthesizing function, even if a little misshapen from the damaging freeze.
The local newspaper interviewed a scientist at the University of Massachusetts Climate System Research Center. This fellow pointed out that one year does not make any affirmative statements about global warming or climate change. He went on to say that it is the body of evidence over a long period that will help us to make conclusions. I was a bit surprised that he failed to mention that we have nearly three decades of information that support this climate change idea. But as a scientist I knew he was trying to portray himself and his colleagues as the objective observers; those that will wait for all of the data before declaring the result one way or the other.
As an ecologist who spends time in the field and not in some god forsaken laboratory I must admit I’m a little more forward on these matters. In the past decade I’ve witnessed painted turtles sunning themselves on floating logs in February when the ice should have been several feet thick. I’ve seen vernal pool species like spotted salamanders scurrying across dry land in search of breeding habitat in the end of February in 50 degree weather in contrast to previous years there was three to four feet of snow on the ground. In my travels along stream corridors I’ve experienced black flies in early April; a full month before they should emerge from the stream beds in which the larvae inhabit. I’ve stumbled upon one of the earliest woodland wildflowers, spring beauty, well before March 21st and a full month before they traditionally bloom. And I’ve spied black bears emerging from dens in February because of rising temperatures with no substantial spring food on the horizon for weeks if not months. These are but a few of the illustrations I’ve witnessed that make me wonder.
These are merely casual observations. I store them in my head. Within the pure mechanisms of the scientific method I should not draw any conclusions from these encounters. They are simple examples of evidence. To assume they are connected to the changes in weather patterns would be premature.
But still, I can’t help wondering.
What the hell is going on?