Day 55: Why 70°F in February isn’t good news

I could have sworn I woke up in the wrong country this morning. Clear blue skies, sun-bathing conditions, robins singing in the trees? Are those piles of snow on the lawn really from a Nor’easter that hit Albany ten days ago? You could’ve kidded me. The 69°F registered at the Albany International Airport today (72°F on my phone) was a record-setting temperature – never in recorded history has February been this warm in Albany (record temperatures also happened in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, and in the Southeast).

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Yes, it is nice to enjoy the sun in February. It feels nice on your skin, it’s good for your physical and emotional well-being, and the reprieve from freezing temperatures is amazing. But before you start cheering global warming on, here’s what you need to know about having 70°F in February:

  1. It’s bad for crops. Plants will start budding earlier because they think spring is coming, which leaves them vulnerable for March storms. Early warm weather messes biological clocks up, leaving plants confused and us with less crops.
  2. An earlier spring means less winter ice build-up in the Arctic and a faster melt during the summer. Every year the Arctic restores its ice in the winter. If a winter is cut off too soon, then the ice starts to melt earlier. The next year, there will be even less ice, and that ice will melt faster in the summer, and so on.  If the trend continues, we’ll have no ice in the Arctic eventually – which means no more habitat for polar bears or the Arctic fox.
  3. Early springs mess up butterfly and insect populations, too. They think it’s time to start reproducing and freeze with later winter storms or cold snaps.
  4. Early springs are also bad for the watershed. Instead of the snow gradually melting over the course of spring, it melts all at once now as temperatures soar, causing rivers to flood with excess water. The water gets drained faster, which means less water in the soil. Earlier snow melt means that watersheds will be drier than they should be in the summer, and my favorite waterfall will run dry.

 

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A small trickle is visible at the Taughannock Waterfall, in Trumansburg, NY.

5. Less insects and plant buds due to an early spring have a ripple effect through the rest of the ecosystem. Many animals depend on early buds and insects, such as bats, and will struggle for survival.

6. A trend of earlier springs will force many species to adapt their migration patterns, their fur-changing patterns (such as the snowshoe hares, who change from their snowy white coat to their summer brown coat sometime during the spring) and eating habits, which in turn will affect the entire food chain.

In short, if you mess something up in Nature, you can be sure that you’re messing with the whole package. All the pieces that make up “nature” are finely tuned in with each other – food chains show veritable links between two species at opposite ends of an ecosystem, weather patterns in the Pacific can affect what’s going on in India, and the rains of the Amazon depends on sand coming in from the Sahara. Nature is a force to be reckoned with, and it is best left to its own devices. Any interference is likely to be a negative one.

We are the driving force behind the early spring this year (and have been for the last century). We’re changing the way nature works, not only in the atmosphere, but within the entire biosphere. Waking up to a summery day in February might seem pleasant, but it hides a very ugly message for all of us: we are changing the planet in ways that we cannot yet measure.

Be cautious. We have been warned.

 

 

 

 

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