Ignore for a moment the forecast. We’re supposed to get hammered with snow tomorrow, with a full-fledged blizzard watch. We’re likely to get a foot, and possibly more, over a 24 hour period starting tomorrow. It’s not supposed to get very cold though, with high temperatures of close to 30…very close to “normal” for this time of year. Disregarding what’s likely to happen tomorrow though, it’s been anything BUT a “normal” winter in South Dakota.
Right before Valentine’s Day, people started noticing small groups of geese passing overhead. We can get truly massive flocks of Snow Geese that move through in the spring, and we also get large flocks of migrating Canada Geese and Greater White-fronted Geese. What’s NOT normal is to start seeing the goose migration in mid-February! With incredibly warm weather in February (It was over 70 degrees in Sioux Falls yesterday, and nearly 65 today, more than 30 degrees above normal!!), the trickle of migrating geese has become a torrent, with truly massive flocks of birds moving through the area. Normally at this time of year, I’m hunkered down in the cold, with my local birding restricted to the few Dark-eyed Juncos, Downy Woodpeckers, or American Goldfinches that might visit my feeders. This year I’m already enjoying the sights and sounds of thousands upon thousands of VERY early migrants.
The warm weather and the migrating geese aren’t the only signs of an incredibly early “spring”. Given that my livelihood is based on the use of satellite imagery for mapping, monitoring, and ultimately predicting what’s going to happen on the earth’s surface, I follow a lot of other similar work, including data provided by the National Phenology Network. “Phenology” is “the study of cyclic and seasonal phenomenon”, and the National Phenology Network examines plant and animal phenology and how it relates to the environment. From a vegetation standpoint, we can use satellite imagery to assess the phenology of growing vegetation, tracking the timing of spring “green-up”, peak vegetation activity in the summer, and the senescence/browning of vegetation in the fall.
The National Phenology Network produces a data product called the “Spring Leaf Index Anomaly”. The measure compares satellite-based measurements of spring “green-up” of vegetation compared to the historical green-up across the United States. The latest update was a map of conditions released today, as shown here:
We’re SO early in terms of vegetation green-up that we’re literally off the scale! The legend for the Spring Leaf Index Anomaly shows how early or late spring green up is compared to historical, but only goes out to a 20-day departure from normal. We are almost a full MONTH ahead of schedule for many parts of the U.S.
Warm weather, migrating geese, vegetation green-up from satellite imagery…it doesn’t stop there! Daffodils are coming up around Sioux Falls! In FEBRUARY! Talking with colleagues from the east coast, daffodils and tulips started coming up a few weeks ago already! We’ve still got plenty of porous, honeycombed ice on many of the lakes around here, but there’s quite a bit of open water, particularly with all the rivers and streams now unfrozen.
I’m still baffled how any rational human being can choose not to believe that climate change is occurring. Even for the right-wing nut jobs who have long denounced climate change as some kind of incredibly elaborate, world-wide hoax that evidently involves all scientists on the planet, there’s been increased recognition that something is happening. Well…duh!! Those same climate-change deniers have increasingly accepted that climate change is occurring, but refuse to believe that human beings that are the cause.
As a scientist, at this stage…frankly I don’t CARE if people believe we’re the cause. The ship has already sailed…we’re already FAR down the path to severe climate change, given that we’re now over 400 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There’s just no concerted, global, political, social, or MORAL will to make the sacrifices necessary to slow down climate change, so at this stage…SCREW the cause of climate change. It’s HERE. It’s HAPPENING.
If I could say one thing to the politicians who don’t want to acknowledge our role in changing the climate…AT LEAST SUPPORT ACTIVITIES THAT MONITOR CLIMATE CHANGE, and HELP US TO ADAPT TO WHAT’S COMING. REGARDLESS of what you think is causing climate change, CLEARLY IT IS HERE. The environment around is, the creatures within that environment, are necessarily adapting to the rapidly changing conditions.
The million dollar question is now if we can do the same.