The azaleas in my garden are in full bloom. My orange trees are sprouting blossoms, and I haven’t even finished picking last year’s crop yet. The live oak trees are full of chirping birds and the local newspaper predicts the high temperature will be in the eighties today. I’ve lived in Florida for 34 years and I’ve never seen spring so early. What on earth is going on?
As my mother used to say, Central Florida isn’t really the Tropics, it’s “the gateway to the Tropics.” We get frost here in Lakeland. Two winters ago, it was so cold for so many days that one of my precious mango trees died – despite the layers of plastic covering it. In the mid-1980s, winter was so severe that it destroyed not only the orange crop but orange trees, too. The sap froze and the trunks of the trees exploded. Back in the ’70s, there was snow on the ground in New Port Richey. On January 19, 1977, snow fell in Miami, and on January 9, 2010, flurries were spotted in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
I recall several sub-freezing days in Central Florida just last year. But the temperatures this winter rarely dipped below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Surely, global warming couldn’t have come all at once?
Or has the climate simply gone crazy?
Fifty miles east of Lakeland, along I-4, Orlando is also wondering about the unexpected warm weather. Here’s a recent excerpt from the Sentinel:
January in Orlando, relatively speaking, was a scorcher
According to the National Weather Service, the average temperature was nearly 6 degrees warmer than normal, ranking the month among the 10 warmest Januarys since the 1890s.
With December also somewhat warmer than usual, the area’s mid-winter “heat wave” has jolted the likes of peaches, pollen and the gorgeously gaudy blossoms of the tabebuia tree — now providing the yellow, purple and pink scenery in downtown Orlando — prodding them all into early-season action.
Researchers at Boston University are seeking answers to unusually early spring weather in recent years. An article in Smithsonian.com reports:
According to a study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, unusually warm spring weather in 2010 and 2012 at a pair of notable sites in the eastern U.S. led to the earliest spring flowering times on record—earlier than any other time in the last 161 years.
The researchers involved, from Boston University, the University of Wisconsin and Harvard, examined the flowers at two sites well-known for their roles in the early environmental movement: Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau started keeping flowering records back in 1852, and Dane County, Wisc., where Aldo Leopold first recorded flowering data in 1935.
They conclude it’s because of climate change.
I can just hear you Republicans out there saying, “So let’s have more climate change.” Nobody wants to shiver in the cold and the dark. And even Smithsonian.com concedes:
There’s little disagreement among scientists that climate change, as a whole, is a fearful proposition. But, interestingly, some botanists might actually see these findings as encouraging for the plants in particular. Those studied, at least, seem able to adapt to the warmer springs and shorter winters by flowering earlier, rather than missing out on crucial growing time—a flexibility that bodes well for their future in a warming climate.
But don’t rejoice too fast. There’s a dark side to the early spring – even for plants. The article continues:
Of course, this is only a stop-gap measure, as the scientists suspect that there is some flowering threshold the plants cannot pass. If winters get so short that these flowering plants have no time at all to go dormant, it would conceivably alter their annual growth cycle to an extent that threatens their survival—or allows plants from warmer areas to move in and outcompete the natives.
And, then, too, there’s the really bad stuff – like Hurricane Sandy and the arctic glaciers melting, and the devastating droughts afflicting Midwestern farms, and…
As Smithsonian.com abserves, climate change is “a fearful proposition.”
But it’s hard to feel gloomy when the sun is shining, the azaleas are blooming and mocking birds fill the air with music.
Click on photo to enlarge it.