Monday, May 28, 2012

An Unusually Warm Spring

Ripe Saguaro Cactus fruit a month early.
Warm weather conditions have been present across the Norther Hemisphere this spring.  This has resulted in a lot of unusually early blooming activity.  Here in the Sonoran Desert everything seems to be two weeks to one month ahead of schedule due to the warm weather.  Signs of this started showing up probably in March when I noticed some of the plants blooming quite a bit early.  First, the hedgehog cacti bloomed about four weeks early in mid-March.  Then Buckhorn Cholla bloomed a few weeks earlier than normal.  Cholla flower buds matured so quickly this year that I entirely missed harvesting any buds.  Normally, cholla buds are available to harvest even into the beginning of May but this year the entire harvest was finished towards the end of April.  Saguaro Cacti also began blooming mid-April, a month a head of schedule.  Today, I found quite a few ripe Saguaro Fruit.  Normally this fruit doesn't ripen for another four or five weeks during the hottest part of the summer.  Ironwoods and Palo Verde trees also bloomed weeks ahead of schedule.  
Hedgehog Cactus flowering a month early in the Sonoran Desert.
Other places in North America have also been experiencing early blooms.  In the Midwest, Morel Mushrooms popped up in forests four to six weeks ahead of schedule!  Fruit trees also bloomed six weeks ahead of schedule.  Unfortunately, this extremely early bloom was followed by freezing temperatures that killed the flowers or immature fruits, so fruit harvests will be very poor later this year.  Last week, when I visited the eastern deciduous forest in Missouri the forest looked like it was late June or early July with all the leaves on the trees.  According to weather patterns the farmers also are quite a bit behind schedule, but we really don't know what that will do to crop production this summer if warm weather continues.  There is a possibility that the normally dry late summer will arrive earlier and stay longer, hurting crop production.
Morel Mushroom.
So what is causing all this warm weather that results in early blooms and leaf-outs?  Global warming?  That is a good possibility, but it is hard to point a finger directly at that.  Most likely, global warming is contributing to the warm weather, but it also is probably just an unusually warm year on top of that.  The simple fact that nearly the entire Norther Hemisphere is experiencing such warm temperatures strongly suggests it is more than just an oddly warm year.  Such major and wide spread changes in weather don't just happen unless large changes in overall climate are happening.  It will be interesting to say the least to see how weather and plant and animal patterns change in years to come as the climate warms.  Many of the agricultural problems we see this year are likely small tastes of what is to come as the climate changes.

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