The Science of Spring | PLOS Ecology Community

I have to admit, at first I didn’t really notice. I live in Virginia, a state in the approximate middle of the east coast of the US. The city I call home is at the foothills of the mountains in the central part of the state, but I work in Richmond, about 70 miles east. Richmond is deep into the piedmont, right on the border of the coastal plain. My commute is not the most extreme climate gradient, but it is almost always warmer in Richmond, and we usually get more snow than they do. And spring, well, there can be a week or more difference between the piedmont and the foothills.



From Sarah Scribbles by Sarah Anderson. You should buy her book, it is great:


That’s why initially I didn’t think too much about the dogwood tree along where I walk to my office when it started blooming in early February. I did take a picture and I may have put it on Instagram, but you know who doesn’t do that? But after a few days of late-spring like temperatures and nearly every tree exploding with color, it was hard to deny. Spring had sprung in Virginia.


The dogwood in question in early February (Richmond, VA).

By February 15, everyone had noticed. Jason Samenow of the Capital Weather Gang wrote an excellent piece for the Washington Post heavily circulated in my part of the world. Record February warmth was driving this crazy early spring. But just how crazy is this early spring? Just how do we measure this stuff anyway? And what happens when you get an early spring followed by a slingshot cold snap and with snow to boot?


Spring leaf anomaly. The dark red indicates areas of early buburst, with some areas as great as 21 days early. It should be noted, that areas around Los Angeles are conversely nearly 21 days behind schedule.


The study of cyclic, seasonal natural phenomena is called phenology. As the National Phenology Network puts it, think of it as “Nature’s Calendar.” Phenological events are not isolated to…

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