By February, winter always feels like it's long overstayed its welcome. If you're ready for your buns to get some sun, I have good news: In 2018, spring is running super early in the western part of the country. Rejoice, for sundress and crop top season is upon us! I, for one, welcome the prospect of being able to drink Frappuccinos again without feeling silly.
This information is courtesy of the USA National Phenology Network, which tracks the start of spring in the U.S. Using "spring leaf and bloom indices," which put together seasonal phenomena like migration patterns and flowering plants, the organization keeps an eye on the beginning of spring across the country. According to their calculations so far, this year's season has begun four weeks early in southern Utah and Washington state, and it's five to six weeks early around the Grand Canyon. Despite the predictions of a certain meteorologically-inclined groundhog back in early February, the Midwest and parts of the Northeast are also warming faster than average. Meanwhile, the Washington Post notes that the season is at least 20 days early in the mid-Atlantic and Ohio River Valley. (Southeasterners, put down your bikinis. I'm sorry to say that spring appears a little later than normal.)
This isn't the first year to see a much earlier spring than average. In 2017, the United States had the sixth warmest winter on record, and it experienced its second warmest February. According to Weather.com, flowering trees starting gearing up for spring up to three weeks early. (Remember how early the cherry blossoms bloomed in Washington, D.C. last year?) While this year's spring is arriving early, the 2017 season was much further ahead of schedule. Thanks, climate change!
Seriously — we have climate change to thank for all of this. While we can all agree that winter is The Worst and warmer temperatures are a welcome relief from the cold, spring's early arrival is part of a series of changes to Earth's climate caused by human activity. Last year, the comprehensive 2017 National Climate Assessment reported that as our climate continues to change, winters in the continental U.S. won't last as long, and they'll be milder in many parts of the country. By extension, this means spring will start earlier. It is, of course, all thanks to humans. Researchers wrote:
"Substantial reductions in western U.S. winter and spring snowpack are projected as the climate warms. Earlier spring melt and reduced snow water equivalent have been formally attributed to human-induced warming... and will very likely be exacerbated as the climate continues to warm."
As the Post points out, this means the "growing season," aka the months between the last and first frosts of the year, will be longer. But this doesn't mean farmers will be able to produce more food. For one thing, plants don't receive enough sunlight in the fall to grow as well as they do in the summer, even if the temperatures remain warm. For another, there's well-established evidence that climate change is causing more extreme weather. According to the National Climate Assessment, we can expect factors like "extremes in precipitation," droughts, heat damage, and diseases to affect agricultural production.
"By mid-century and beyond, these impacts will be increasingly negative on most crops and livestock," researchers concluded. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the scientific community has warned several times that climate change will probably bring food shortages across the world.
Basically, enjoy the lovely spring days ahead, but while you're out there sucking down frozen lemonades and running in the park, keep the bigger picture in mind. Our planet is more fragile than you may think.