Did you know that this year's unusually mild winter temperatures have influenced flora and fauna species negatively? For instance, honey bees are dying in great masses due to starvation from waking up much too early. Similarly, bat species, which have already been weakened by the mysterious White Nose Syndrome (WNS), are also waking from torpor earlier than expected, burning valuable calories before any sign of food supply emerges. Oh but just wait a couple of weeks when insects do emerge in a booming way, which will likely affect crop damage, disease transmission, and of course nuisance issues.
A host of questions arise when abnormal weather occurs. For example, many are wondering if the powers of climate change have quickly buckled to the pressures of industrialization. But before making that assumption, some scientists attribute this year's phenomenon to cyclic weather patterns such as La Nina and the Arctic Oscillation (AO). La Nina (opposite of El Nino) increases water temperature in the Pacific Ocean, which influences rainfall throughout the country, often leading to droughts in the south and heavy rainfall in temperate North America. The AO influences the position of the arctic jet stream, which controls winter temperatures; thus, snowfall. La Nina's impact on water temperature ultimately pushed an already abnormally northerly jet stream further north, which caused Ohio and many other states to experience an abnormally low amount of snowfall this year. Two main problems arise when this occurs. For example, the sun puts most of its energy into heating the ground rather than melting snow that should be there. Further, we know that snow deflects a great deal of solar energy because it is white. When there is a reduction in snow, the ground absorbs more solar energy this way as well. So, it is easy to see how two cyclic climatic events can cascade into such a dramatic change in weather by coincidentally occurring at the same time. As a result, we have one of the warmest winters on record.
Though many problems have arisen from such an unusually mild winter, one segment of society has greatly benefitted from this phenomenon - botanists. Today, Andrew Gibson (The Natural Treasures of Ohio) took me on another stroll through his stomping grounds of the biologically diverse Adam's County, Ohio to explore an extra early array of spring ephemeral plants. There, we found approximately 20 new early bloomers for the year!