Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Summer in March a Thrill and a Chill in Vermont

Now that most of the country is having summer weather in March, maybe it's time to rethink my northern Vermont garden in light of global warming.

It's time to dispense with cold climate crops like snap peas, early lettuce and spinach. And who needs asparagus in May?
Some of my daffodils this morning, ready to bloom
five weeks earlier than normal.

So, it's time to rip out the crabapple trees and plant a nice little orange grove. That woodsy area out back would make a lovely little coffee plantation. And would the palm tree look better out by the road? Or should a line the driveway with rows of palm trees, to make my place resemble Beverly Hills?

Of course, I worry about tropical critters getting into my yard, now that St. Albans, Vermont is apparently the new South Florida? Would alligators make a grab for my sweet little dog Jackson? Should I check the sheets for tarantulas before going to bed in the evening?

Like much of the rest of the nation, Vermont is in the grips of a spell of summer like weather. Record highs are being shattered day after day amid temperatures typical of June or July.

It was 80 degrees yesterday in Burlington Vermont, the earliest it's ever been so warm. We've had two other "earliest ever" records this month. Today and tomorrow are forecast to be even warmer than yesterday.

I've been lucky enough to have this week off from my regular job. This summer weather is allowing me to get some outdoor work done, and it is beautiful out. But the weather being this far out of whack is a bit chilling, even if I'm a puddle of sweat out there every day.  Is global warming really going beyond expectations?  It makes me wonder, since. bizarre, sometimes disastrous weather keeps coming on fast and furious here in Vermont.
My lilac bush, ready to leaf out this morning.

There's a complicated mix of reasons why the weather is so hot. It' seems to have to do with La Nina, some weather patterns in the Arctic screwing around with the jet streatm and other science that's too dense to get into here. But the experts say global warming is adding more power to the heat wave. What might have otherwise been a odd spell of very warm weather has by far exceeded anything anyone has ever seen.

We all adjust our routines daily to take weather into consideration, but the changes I'm making to my routine seem startling for March.

Sunday, I was with family in Rutland, on another hot winter day. Jackson, our cocker spaniel,  panted in the heat, and chased away some of the mosquitoes that were harassing us. By the way, I've never seen mosquitoes before earlier than the beginning of May.  Normally, this time of year, when I visit my sister Lynn, we keep the beer and wine on the porch to keep it cold. This time, it was us humans on the porch, trying to stay cool.

Monday, the last day of winter, I was helping an elderly woman clean out her barn. We stopped shortly after noon. "It's too hot," she said. True, I was sweating in the humid winter heat.

We decided to finish another day. As I was driving away, the windows rolled down I peered through the muggy haze to see thunderheads rising over the mountains, another thing I've never seen in March.

Radio stations here are caught in the spirit of the March summer. Up pops up "Boys of Summer," then it's "Summer In The City," with the Lovin' Spoonful singing about the "people looking half dead, walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head."

As the song was playing I glanced over at a bicyclist slumped against a wall in a bit of shade, guzzling water out of a bottle.

Yesterday, a bright sun shone through a blue summer haze shrouding the mountains. I could catch whiffs of burning grass and leaves. It's so hot, so dry, that the dead detritus of last fall on the ground is catching fire in the fields and forests around Vermont.  An early spring routine is to round up all the fallen branches from the winter, mound them up into brush piles and burn them. Not this year. It's too risky. One ember and the whole forest nearby could go up in flames.

The heat wave is forecast to peak today and tomorrow in Vermont, with readings in the low 80s.  We might have the hottest March day on record.
My crocuses, seen here blooming this past Sunday, have
come and gone for the season already.

Forsythias are blooming, the daffodils are ready to. All the trees are budding. Spring growth is five weeks ahead of schedule. It almost looks like the first of May out there. Maply syrup season has been cut short by the heat, which makes me wonder if there will be shortages of the stuff.

It will be cooler this weekend, but still mild for March. But with everything budding as if we were headed into May,  will a normal shot of frigid air hit, and kill everything? A leafless, brown summer, with foliage killed by frost? Or a drought? A big turn around, with more destructive floods, like last year?

Weather was never predictable in Vermont. The old saw here is "Wait a minute and the weather will change."

But the weather used to change in semi-predictable ways. Yes, you'd get warm spells in March, followed by snow in April, followed by dry weather, then torrential rains. You just dealt with it, and the weather almost never made you worry too much.

Now, as I write this, a warm breeze is making its way through an open Vermont window at the crack of dawn. Sure, like everybody else, I'm enjoying the early summer. But part of me worries.  If the weather can get this far out of whack in a nice way, could it bite us in a very bad way? It already might be starting to, with the record floods last spring, Tropical Storm Irene's floods last August, this year's winter that wasn't.

Global warming won't make the world end. I also very much doubt it will end civilization in a few centuries. But as the extremes get more extreme, climate change might make the weather hurt some of us humans in small and big ways we can't yet imagine.


The other day, in International Falls, Minnesota, the "Ice Box of the Nation," the low temperature was a record high for the date. The afternoon was the hottest March day on record, and about normal for this time of year in Tampa, Florida.

It was also 94 degrees in a town called Winner, South Dakota.

All this climate change is getting confusing. But of course, now that I'm in a tropical mood, we'll surely have a three-foot blizzard in April. Vermont does tend to slap you in the face like that, you know.

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