Sunday, February 19, 2012

Warm winter? Hot winter

Much of today's news is based on narratives as we attempt to fit what we see into a nice storyline primarily because of the increased discussion and communication via the internet and social media. This was always the case to some degree, but each year it seems that we want to cram things into a collectively accepted and proven storyline more and more, a dangerous endeavor when it comes to the sciences. The past few months we have seen a bunch including, "Where are the birds in my backyard and at my feeders? They're all gone!" (much more common than usual this year) and "This is an incredible season, winter has been so warm!" So how accurate are they?

We have addressed the former to some degree in this space, discussing why many of the more typical backyard birds are around in lesser numbers, including the fact this is not an irruptive season for much except Snowy Owls to the lack of snow. What about the weather? Is this truly so aberrant a season, or has it been a bit warmer than usual?

The answer tells us a great deal including what we can expect this spring from the health and success of vernal pools to the leaf-out of plant life. It will affect the mosquito population and help some resident birds get an early start on the breeding process. Here are the temperature departures from monthly averages for two climate stations in Connecticut (in degrees Fahrenheit, via the National Weather Service):
November: +4.3
December: +5.7
January: +5.6
February (through 18th): +6.3

November: +3.9
December: +5.9
January: +5.5
February (through 18th): +7.0

It has not been a warm winter - it has been a hot winter! Those are absurdly high deviations from the norm. I almost feel as if this is not a big enough story right now as I went in to that expecting something more along the lines of a 2-4 degree difference for the past few months. You have to imagine a prolonged change so far from climate averages will mean our environment will end up with some unusual changes in the next few months, especially if this continues through the spring (as it should at least in the near future). We may be in store for dry forest floors and trees full of leaves in mid-April with fledgling Black-capped Chickadees hopping about not long after.

Be on the lookout for ticks as their population should be higher than usual as well. They have been biting the entire fall and winter this year as I found out when I pulled a deer tick off my leg on the day after Christmas. I am sure we could name odd events and possible changes for paragraph after paragraph - suffice it to say it is another extremely abnormal weather event, albeit less memorable or mentally scarring to humans as last winter.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

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