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Spring Gets Ahead of Itself: Heidi Cullen’s NYT Op-Ed

(The full version of this Op-Ed is on

The first day of spring isn’t what it used to be. In fact, over the past several decades spring weather has been arriving earlier in most parts of the United States. This shift affects all aspects of life — from when flowers bloom to when animals migrate and have babies — the very things that make spring magical.

The climatologist Mark D. Schwartz at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and colleagues at the USA National Phenology Network have developed an index that can be used to estimate the date of the onset of the spring growing season (as opposed to the date in March when daylight and darkness are of equal length, the technical definition of the first day of spring, which falls on Tuesday). This “first leaf” index estimates the first day that leaves appear on plants. Here in the lower 48, spring now arrives approximately three days earlier. “First leaf” has gone from March 20 (1951-1980 average) to March 17 (1981-2010 average). This forward creep is consistent with the effects of an overall warming climate, roughly 1.4 degrees over the past century, what we refer to as global warming.

Winter 2012 will go down as the fourth warmest on record for the contiguous United States, according to the National Climatic Center. And so far, March will be remembered for the more than 2,200 warm temperature records that were set around the nation. The warm weather, with daytime high temperatures close to 40 degrees above average in some places (high temperature records are outpacing cold records by a ratio of about 19-to-1 so far this March), set the stage for severe thunderstorms that spawned rare, damaging tornadoes near Detroit. It used to be that a warm day in March felt like a gift, but now it feels as if we’re paying for it.

Winter 2012 will go down as the fourth warmest on record for . . . 

Click here to read the rest of Heidi’s column in the New York Times


By Christopher Winter (San Jose, CA)
on March 23rd, 2012

An interesting local perspective on this is the book Early Spring, in which ecologist Amy Seidl describes the changes taking place around her home in Vermont.

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By Christopher Beahan (Philadelphia, PA )
on April 19th, 2012

Excellent, clear article.

Presenting plain facts about trackable changes and nature’s response to these changes. How can even the most ignorant, pandering, evangelical Republican not accept these as fact and not conjecture or manipulations? I think it is critical for there to be at least one debate in the Presidential Cycle addressing the problems and proposed solutions each of the candidates would have to address the multiple problems that Global Warming is inevitably going to bring upon America & the rest of the Globe. And Ms. Cullen should be a moderator as she obviously is able to communicate the issues at hand in conversational language. It might well be a smart idea to dissolve the bloated, ineffective Department of Homeland Security; hand over it’s critical functions to the CIA, FBI & the Military, and create a new Department of Global Warming? I’m certainly not holding my breath on any of this ever happening but keep on putting the message out there and eventually reason will get inertia & turn things around. Good work!!

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By Gary Beeley (Atlanta, Ga 30277)
on April 21st, 2012

It is true that since the 1980s temperatures have been warming and therefore in general Spring has been arriving a little earlier. However the 1960s and 70s were the coolest years since the late 1800s especially across much of the eastern half of the nation and the 30 year average (1951-1980) included those years. This is a convenient point to present an inconvenient truth. In other words fudging the statistics to prove a point. If you go back to the 1930s through 1940s you will have 30 year averages even warmer than the most recent 1981-2010 average for most states east of the Rockies. To be fair the states in the western portion of the nation have had their warmest 30 year averages in recent years although in the past few years the averages have leveled off or are falling. I would have to say looking at the data you would have to assume that Spring was arriving earlier in the 1930s to 40s than even today especially for much of the eastern half of the country.  I am not taking a political or religious stance on this. I am simply being objective and looking at the facts. You too can look at the actual data by going to the Western Region Climate Center and creating graphs of temperatures and precipitation data since the late 1800s. Lots of revealing information here. The web site is

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