Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog predicted another 6 weeks of winter, but on that day I saw a lone dandelion already blooming at the neighborhood park. Maybe it was being bold, or being stupid, to bloom so early. It was covered by snow the following week. But according to estimates by the National Phenology Network, spring has already arrived in much of the Southwest and Southeast. It was about 20 days early for the Southeast. They track Extended Spring Indices which are models that scientists have developed to predict the “start of spring” at a particular location.
This weekend in Paradelle, we are enjoying temperatures in the 50s and 60s after a windy week in the 20s and 30s. Such is this time of late winter and early spring.
I have written a few times about phenology which is the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life.
They use historical observations of the timing of first leaf and first bloom of certain plants (for example, cloned lilacs and honeysuckles) and daily observations from weather stations.
Many deciduous plants in temperate systems put on their leaves as temperatures warm in late winter and early spring. Using the Extended Spring Index models, scientists can look at how much the start of spring has varied from one year to the next at a particular location, and whether recent years are dramatically different from the past or not. The models can also be used to forecast when selected plants might bloom or put on leaves in future years.
I have been keeping my own bloom records for my home turf for about 20 years. Though my property is certainly its own “micro-climate” with variations due to shade, soil etc., I have seen earlier springs over the years for certain plants that are my own little “control” group.
The USA National Phenology Network developed Nature’s Notebook, a project focused on collecting standardized ground observations of phenology by researchers, students and volunteers like me.
I think their mission should be everyone’s mission, even if you don’t get as official as doing phenology: Gain a better understanding through considered observation of the plant and animals that surround you and how they relate to your environment and broader environmental change.
Spring is officially still a month away for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t already observing signs of it in your little corner of the world.