March comes through with an early spring 2012.03.28

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Everyone’s talking about the early spring and the record-setting temperatures it brought along, but a slowly advancing spring is not a new phenomena. This year’s exceptionally warm March only brought it to the forefront.

The science of studying plant and animal cycles—when the redbud blooms, when carp spawn, etc.—is called phenology. The entire season is considered. Scientists aren’t only interested in when something appears in the spring, but also in late-blooming plants of the fall. Researchers often look at the relationship between those cycles and climate.

The timing of seasonal events is important in the natural world in many ways. For example, if a particular caterpillar emerges, it needs food to survive. When a bird chick hatches, it might need that caterpillar to eat.

Phenology is also important to agriculture for determining planting times and for pest control. For many people, it’s a matter of pollen release and allergies.

This year’s odd spring could have an effect in many areas.

Few people take careful note of when a particular plant flowers every year, but scientists do consult the record of amateur phenologists including Henry David Thoreau.

Starting in 1851, Thoreau began keeping meticulous journal records of when plants bloomed in the woods near Concord, Mass. By comparing Thoreau’s records to contemporary data, scientists have discovered an advance of about seven days for 43 of the most common plants. That study ended in 2006. Since then, researchers have continued to update the study and now see a change of 10 days since Thoreau lived by Walden Pond.

Similarly, Wisconsin conservationist Aldo Leopold provided a decade of careful observations from 1935-45, and his daughter resumed the work in the 1970s and many changes have been observed. For example, the compass plant used to bloom in mid-July, but now flowers in late June.

Not all plants change their flowering time to match the climate, and an inability to change can have serious consequences. Plants with inflexible flowering times are disappearing. An example comes from Thoreau’s records. In his time, 21 species of orchids grew in the area. Now there are only six. 

What’s ahead?

Few complaints were heard about the four days of 80°-plus weather last week—surely someone groused that it was too hot—but many complaints could follow with regard to allergies and mosquitoes.

Physicians are seeing allergy patients earlier this season since trees flowered so much earlier. In addition, a mild winter means a higher rate of bud survival, so there’s likely to be more pollen in the air.

Another trade-off from a mild winter will likely come from the insect world. 

December, January and February resulted in 67 days below 25° here in 2010-11. By contrast, the past winter produced only 28 days below 25° and that means more insects survived the cold.

It’s likely that more ticks will be crawling around this summer and mosquitoes will get an early start. Some people have already observed ants in their homes.

Growers of certain plants might be accustomed to fungicide treatments at this time of year, but instead they might have to move directly to insecticides.

Although some people are quick to see the recent odd weather in terms of climate change, meteorologists aren’t so quick to make that jump.

There’s no question among the vast majority of climate scientists that global climate change is underway, but there will always be deviations—both in heat and cold—along with some very dramatic departures such as what went on in March. Overall, the heat waves are becoming more dramatic and cold waves weaker.

Although the recent months’ weather may not be a direct result of climate change, climate models suggest that odd weather is more likely to happen.

• Sources: National Phenology Network; LiveScience by Wynne Parry; NPR’s Diane Rehm show; NPR’s All Things Considered; Climate Wisconsin.

  • Play Practice
    DRAMA—Fayette schools, in conjunction with the Opera House Theater program, will present two plays Friday night at the Fayette Opera House. From the left is Autumn Black, Wyatt Mitchell, Elizabeth Myers, Jonah Perdue, Sam Myers (in the back) and Lauren Dale. Other cast members are Brynn Balmer, Mason Maginn, Ashtyn Dominique, Stephanie Munguia and Sierra Munguia. Jason Stuckey serves as the technician and Trinity Leady is the backstage manager. The plays will be performed during the day Friday for students and for the public at 7 p.m. Friday.
  • Front.F.school
    PROGRESS continues on the agriculture classroom addition at Fayette High School. The project will add 2,900 square feet of space and include an overhead door that would allow equipment to be driven inside. The building should be ready for the start of school in August. Work on ball fields and a running track is also underway.
  • Front.rover
    CLEARING THE WAY—Road crossings in the area on the construction route of the Rover natural gas pipeline are marked with poles and flags as preliminary work nears. Ditches and field entry points are covered with thick planks in many areas to support equipment for tree clearing operations. Actual pipeline construction is progressing across Ohio toward a collecting station near Defiance. That segment of the project is expected to wrap up in July. The 42-inch line through Michigan and into Ontario is scheduled for completion in November. The line is projected to transport 3.25 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day.
  • Front.geese
    ON THE MOVE—Six goslings head out on manuevers with their parents in an area lake. Baby waterfowl are showing up in lakes and ponds throughout the area.
  • Accident
    FAYETTE resident Patricia Stambaugh, 64, was declared dead on the scene of a single-vehicle accident Friday morning south of Morenci. Rescue units were called around 9 a.m., but as of Tuesday, law enforcement officers had not yet determined the time of the accident. According to Ohio State Highway Patrol, Stambaugh was driving west on U.S. 20 when her Chevrolet Malibu traveled off the north side of the road and down a steep embankment, coming to rest in Bean Creek (Tiffin River).
  • Front.teacher Leading
    PRESCHOOL MUSIC—Fayette band director Jeffrey Dunford spends the last half hour of the day leading the full-day preschool class in musical activities. Additional photos are on page 7 of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Face Paint
    FUN NIGHT FUN—Savanna Miles sits patiently while Abbie White works on a face paint design Friday during the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Gracie Snead watches the progress after having spent time in the chair. Abbie was one of several volunteer painters, each creating their own unique look. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2017