Spring is already springing in the south and east

There may still be more than a foot of snow on the ground in many spots around Minnesota, but the season is already changing in the south and part of the East Coast.  After one of the warmest winters on record from the Gulf Coast to the Mid Atlantic, leaves are already popping on plants and some trees. This sounds like it would be glorious, but could end in disaster for much of the vegetation in these areas if temps turn colder in the upcoming weeks.

The spring leaf index produced by the National Phenology Network that shows when plants begin to produce leaves indicating the first signs of spring. The map indicates areas that are already experiencing leaf out and how that compares to average.

The National Phenology Network keeps track of the spring bloom nationwide by determining when lilac and honeysuckle plants begin to leaf out… and then subsequently bloom. These plants are used because they are found in every part of the country and are often times the first plants to show life in the spring. Many of these plants are already gaining leaves from Texas to Washington DC. In fact, areas from DC to Georgia have leafed out nearly a month ahead of average, which is the earliest they have been seen in the Network’s 39-year history.

It’s not just these early plants though that seem to be blooming, the cherry blossoms in DC are already showing signs of life… something that is very rare in February. They typically peak right around April 1st.

While all of this sounds glorious, with many cold weather haters loving the early spring, it can often come with dire consequences. With an early bloom, there is a much higher likelihood that even seasonal average temperatures over the next few weeks could cause these plants to be damaged by a hard freeze, where temperatures dip to 25° or colder. That can halt the plants ability to continue blooming and ruin the growth year for that species. In some cases, the plants can actually die, leaving thousands of dead plants that can no longer soak up moisture creating a higher summertime risk for fire or flood.

As for Minnesota, our typical spring leaf out is toward the end of April with the bloom often occurring in May. We’ll see if this earlier than normal trend continues.