A recent study published by the World Weather Attribution found evidence that human-caused climate change played a role in the abnormally high temperatures in February and March of 2017–something many of us experienced anecdotally. But what does that look like on a national scale?
A telling infographic from The New York Times visualizes the appearance of spring foliage in 2017 as measured against a 30-year average. Graphed on a map of the continental U.S. and beginning on January 6, the infographic shows how foliage begins to slowly move up from the South, reaching parts of New Jersey and the tip of southern New York by March 6th. Gradients of purple reveal just how abnormal this springlike march is. In southern states like Florida and Texas, spring foliage arrived only five to 10 days ahead of schedule, represented by light purple. Further north, the infographic turns deeper and deeper purple, indicating how spring has come a month early in states like Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. As my colleague Cliff Kuang observed: New York is the new Atlanta.
For the continental U.S., February was the second warmest on record. But this kind of early spring isn’t necessarily a cause for celebration. What scientists call “season creep“–a mild winter blurring into an early spring–can throw ecosystems out of whack. And that’s not just for the birds and the bees; farmers and their crops are dependent on a fairly regular seasonal cycle for their yields.
The infographic was created before the erstwhile winds of Winter Storm Stella hit the East Coast earlier this week. But even though Stella turned out to be kind of a sleety bust in some parts of the country, all the flowers and leaves that poked their heads out weeks early are likely dead now. Thanks climate change.