This week’s weather in the United States has been a study in contrasts. Washington, D.C., had its warmest February 23 ever, while Seattle, Washington, had its coldest February 24 ever.
In fact, this week’s temperatures throughout the East Coast were closer to the norm for spring or early summer, raising questions about how the climate crisis is changing the seasonal cycle.
According to Teresa Crimmins, director of the National Phenology Network and an environmental scientist at the University of Arizona, it is a little unnerving and uncharacteristic of when we would expect spring. Given the course that our planet is taking, it may not be surprising, but living through it is still surprising.
The National Phenology Network has a lot to research this year because phenology is the study of the seasons. The network claims that spring has arrived at least 20 days earlier than usual in many regions of the East and Southeast United States.
Those conditions have manifested in areas of central Texas, southeast Arkansas, southern Ohio, and Maryland at the earliest time ever. In New York, where spring is 32 days early, the same thing applies.
What does this actually mean? It indicates that lilacs are blooming in Pennsylvania, daffodils and violets are flowering in New York City, and the famed cherry blossoms of the nation’s capital have begun to bud.
Green buds appeared on the famed Yoshino cherry trees on Thursday, signaling the start of the first of six bloom stages, according to the National Mall division of the National Park System, which made the announcement via Twitter.
The trees last burst into bloom this early on February 19, 2008, according to The Washington Post.
Early spring weather delivered record-high temperatures for the day on Thursday in addition to early flowers; it was 81 degrees at Reagan National Airport, the fourth time in February that D.C. reached the 80-degree threshold. Overall, the first week of January through Wednesday was the warmest in D.C.
The Washington Post also noted that this week, hundreds of other warm records were established in the east. A stunning 102 degrees in Falcon Lake, Texas, the warmest temperature thus far in 2023 and one of the warmest ever recorded in the lower 48 states by this time of year, set records for February highs for Atlanta, Beckley, West Virginia, and the entire month of February.
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During the same time, Lyman, Wyoming, experienced record-breaking cold, with a low of -35 degrees. Snow and ice covered the typically temperate West Coast, with Seattle registering a low of 22 degrees on February 24. However, according to KGW8, Portland, Oregon, saw its greatest snowfall on record to happen at such a late date. And a rare blizzard warning was issued by the Los Angeles National Weather Service.
Even though the unusually warm East may be more pleasant than the unseasonably cold West, it raises questions about how the seasons are changing as the world’s temperatures rise.
Plants may blossom before their insect pest The Guardian noted that bees and birds could migrate north too soon and perish because the food supply couldn’t keep up with them. Pollinator risk ultimately poses a threat to the entire food system.
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Director of Ecological Management for the Maryland/DC chapter of the Nature Conservancy, Dr. Deborah Landau, told The Guardian, “I’m seeing the trends I depend on, the calendar I’ve relied upon to see rare species in bloom, just entirely evaporate.”
Everything has been pushed out of balance, and species that had coevolved for ages are suddenly out of balance. There is a domino effect that extends beyond the fact that cherry blossom season was lost.