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These maps show the early arrival of spring

Feb 28, 2017

Scientists have known that spring is arriving earlier across the U.S. because of climate change. Now, you can take a look at new maps from the U.S. Geological Survey to see how early spring is arriving where you live.

Jake Weltzin is an ecologist with the USGS, and the executive director of the National Phenology Network.

"The folks down in the southeastern United States, across much of that region, are seeing spring coming as many as three weeks early this year," he says.

In Michigan, early spring warm-ups followed by hard freezes can devastate crops, as cherry farmers experienced in 2012. Weltzin says earlier spring arrival can mean mosquitoes and ticks becoming active earlier, and flowering plants and wildlife can get out of sync.

As the National Phenology Network's website notes:

In 2017, we see very large anomalies in the southeastern United States on the Spring Leaf Index map, where the Index was met up to three weeks earlier than what is typical for these locations. 

The timing of leaf-out, migration, flowering and other seasonal phenomena in many species is closely tied to local weather conditions and broad climatic patterns. The Spring Index maps offered by USA-NPN shed light on plant and animal phenology, based on local weather and climate conditions.

You can take a look at the USGS maps to see how the start of spring this year compares to the historical record.

The Spring Leaf Index Map
Credit USA National Phenology Network, www.usanpn.org

"We’re essentially taking what you would say is a weather service data set and applying a model to that, and the model is the relationship between when early leafing plants flower or leaf out, and relating that to the temperature records," says Weltzin. "So we have a daily time stamp, we run the model and we look at how it varies from the long term average."

He says eventually, they'd like to create forecasts that could show up on your phone: for example, you might get a notification that tick season is starting earlier than usual, so it would be a good idea to break out the long pants for your hike.

Weltzin says they rely on citizen scientists to help them collect data - they call the project Nature's Notebook, and he says anyone can help out.