You can call me the Weather Grinch if you like, or maybe the Scrooge of Climate. But I find it hard to face so many people cheerful because the temperature in February has soared into the 50s, or even 60s, as it did several times this year.
“Isn’t it GREAT?” they say, beaming.
“No,” I say emphatically. “It’s February, and this is Pennsylvania. It’s supposed to be cold.”
On Sunday a retired farmer showed me the crocus plants in his garden that were not merely sending shoots out of the soil, but actually beginning form heads for buds. “It’s way too early,” he says, shaking his head. “It’s just not right.”
In my part of Pennsylvania, known for its particularly delicious fruit, early budding brings a heavy economic risk. If the trees come out too early and the buds are sufficiently developed, then a late-season cold snap can freeze them and destroy the entire crop, “In the bud,” as they say.
It’s what happened last year to much of the crop in New York State, which reported half the usual harvest in 2012.
In my county last year, the trees woke up from their winter slumber about three weeks earlier than they should have, sending farmers scrambling to find workers to do the early-season work. Unlike their New York counterparts, they were spared a late-season frost, and the crop was very good.
But the winter of 2011-2012 was especially warm, the fourth-warmest winter on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Just ask the ski industry. “It’s official: 2011-12 ski season was the worst in 20 years,” screamed a headline in the Denver Post.
All of this is just to point to the conclusion that climate scientists have been saying for years: The climate is warming up, and big changes are under way. If it were only apples and skiers affected, that would be one thing. But the predictions are dire, with low-lying coastal cities expected to flood, entire islands to go under water, deserts to emerge from once-fertile plains and ecosystems that have been stable for millennia wiped out. And don’t forget the violence that will erupt as food shortages grip the planet. (At least it may do something about America’s obesity crisis, huh?)
It’s all too scary to even think about. And yet our politicians and business leaders continue to deny the obvious right under their noses.
This year’s been better, with temperatures and snowfall more nearly seasonal. Still, those warm spells send chills down my spine.
So call me a Weather Grinch or Climate Scrooge, but dang it, in Pennsylvania it’s supposed to be cold in February!
Photo © Jan Will – Fotolia.com