Fidelio Desbradel and his wife Leonor Desbradel, of the Dominican Republic, take a selfie in front of a Tulip Magnolia tree in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. (Cliff Owen | The Associated Press)

Fidelio Desbradel and his wife Leonor Desbradel, of the Dominican Republic, take a selfie in front of a Tulip Magnolia tree in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. (Cliff Owen | The Associated Press)

Early bird special: Spring pops up super early in much of US

WASHINGTON — Spring has sprung early — potentially record early — in much of the United States, bringing celebrations of shorts weather mixed with unease about a climate gone askew.

Crocuses, tulips and other plants are popping up earlier than usual from Arizona to New Jersey and down to Florida. Washington is dotted with premature pink blossoming trees. Grackles, red-winged blackbirds and woodpeckers are just plain early birds this year.

The unseasonably warm weather has the natural world getting ahead of — even defying — the calendar, scientists said Tuesday.

In cities like Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio, spring has arrived about a month earlier than the 30-year average and about 20 days earlier than in 2012, which was the earliest spring on record.

Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Phenology Network, which studies seasonal signs, have calculated local and a national spring index based on observations of lilacs, honeysuckles and temperature records that are fed into a computer model.

The spring leaf index goes back to 1900 and 2012 has been the earliest on record. But preliminary records show this year ahead of 2012 in a good chunk of the nation.

As the world warms, spring is arriving earlier, but not everywhere. For a broad swath of the U.S., 2017 sticks out like a crocus in early February. Nashville, St. Louis, Washington, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Indianapolis are at least three weeks early on the spring index, but Phoenix and Los Angeles are running a bit late.

The latest early spring isn’t supposed to show up for decades based on computer simulations that model springs of the future, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private Weather Underground.

“This is basically a year 2100 sort of spring that we’re seeing this year,” Masters said. “Way surprising.”

Fox butterflies are already out in Massachusetts and New York. Beetles are scurrying around Martha’s Vineyard. Crocuses and snowdrops are in full flower in suburban Boston — all exceptionally early because of warm temperatures and little snow cover, said Boston University biology professor Richard Primack.

“I am already hearing woodpeckers knocking on tree trunks” when these sounds usually occur in March or April, said Primack, editor of the journal Biological Conservation.

The northern shoveler duck is usually the next to last duck to make it to upstate New York, arriving sometime in April, but it’s already here, said Kevin McGowan, an ornithologist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology :

These wildlife sightings stem from warm weather in February that Masters called “off-the-charts weird” that included upper 90s in Oklahoma and a first-of-its-kind February tornado in Massachusetts.

Masters and Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann, who photographed flowers sprouting outside his central Pennsylvania house in mid-February, said this is a combination of natural weather variation and man-made warming of the climate.

Warm weather can lead to crop damage if there is a freeze in March or April after plants have already bloomed. It can also worsen droughts, which happened in 2012, Schwartz said.

Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb said what’s happening is disconcerting, no matter how nice it is for people.

“Sure we can’t wait to shed our wool coats and hats each spring, but such warm temperatures are wreaking havoc, sight unseen on key crops,” Cobb said in an email. “Here in Georgia peach buds have been robbed of necessary ‘chill hours’ this winter.”

The early spring is even changing language with some calling recent weeks “alt-spring” and “March-uary.”

Penn State meteorology professor David Titley, said it feels like being on one of the recently discovered Earth-size planets around a nearby star.

“Everything is kind of familiar (weather-wise) but different. I was walking around … in my shirt sleeves and I was almost hot. In February. That’s not supposed to happen,” said the retired admiral.

More in News

(Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast for the week of Nov. 27

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

Hundreds walk the waterfront near Elizabeth Peratrovich Plaza during the 2023 Juneau Maritime Festival in early May. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Survey: Residents increasingly negative about cruise tourism, but postive opinions still prevail

48% of respondents say overall impacts positive, 22% negative after record-high passenger season.

A Hawaiian Airlines plane taxis for position at Kahalui, Hawaii, on the island of Maui, March 24, 2005. Alaska Air Group said Sunday that it agreed to buy Hawaiian Airlines in a $1 billion deal. (AP Photo/Lucy Pemoni, File)
Alaska Air to buy Hawaiian Airlines in a $1.9 billion deal that may attract regulator scrutiny

SEATTLE — Alaska Airlines said Sunday it agreed to buy Hawaiian Airlines… Continue reading

Cruise ship passengers walk around in downtown Juneau in late May. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Public suggestions for spending cruise ship passenger fees being accepted starting Monday

More than $21.6M available after record season, but proposals limited to cruise-related projects.

The Hubbard state ferry (left), the newest vessel in the Alaska Marine Highway System fleet, is back in service in northern Southeast Alaska after a maintenance period as the LeConte, which also serves the region, undergoes a scheduled annual overhaul until March 3. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Marine Highway System)
AMHS leaders hopeful staffing, sailings are trending up

More employees at key positions hired, restoration of cross-Gulf sailings next summer envisioned.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2023

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

A ConocoPhillips oil rig operating during winter on Alaska’s North Slope is featured on the cover of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s report recommending approval of the Willow oil project. (U.S. Bureau of Land Management)
Judge rejects calls to halt winter construction work on Willow oil project in Alaska during appeal

A federal judge in Alaska on Friday rejected requests from environmental groups… Continue reading

Strips of chum salmon hang on a drying rack on Aug. 22, 2007. A new study by federal and state biologists identies marine heat waves in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska as the likely culprit in the recent crashes of Western Alaska chum salmon runs. (Photo by S.Zuray / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Study points to concurrent marine heat waves as culprit in Western Alaska chum declines

Successive marine heat waves appear to have doomed much of the chum… Continue reading

Marzena Whitmore (elf) and Dale Hudson (Santa), pose for a photo with Benny Orvin (partially obscured), 6, and his siblings Lilly, 4, and Remi, 2, taken by their mother Alex as their father Randy watches during Gallery Walk in downtown Juneau on Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Coming together as one giant community family at Gallery Walk

Thousands share an evening of entertainment in the outdoor chill, visiting shops and hot chocolate.

Most Read