More about our bizarre warm winter

by Caroline Brown


A couple of days ago, I noted the warm weather but mentioned that we were “back on track” for cold weather. Wrong–today’s high is supposed to be 58 degrees F. The weather is so weirdly warm that it’s turned into a topic that everyone’s talking (and writing) about. From yesterday’s Providence Journal, Michelle Lee writes about the effects of the warm winter that we’ve been having:

Cherry trees and roses are blooming now, nearly two weeks into winter. Pansies are popping, too.

The warm weather fooled Mother Nature, tricking some plants and trees into growing and blossoming abnormally early.

Three cherry trees that usually flower in the spring are displaying their pale pink buds at Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum in Bristol, which has 33 acres of lawns, gardens and trees.

Similar happenings are going on at the Green Animals Topiary Garden in Portsmouth. Nearly 2,000 pansy plants are in full bloom with purple, white, pink and yellow flowers, said Jim Donahue, the garden’s horticulturist. Pansies normally stop flowering in late fall.

In addition, the Thousand Shine Rambling Rose is still producing deep pink flowers, even though it is off season. One white rhododendron is blossoming and there are a few bees in the air.

“I can’t help but look at it every time I go out there,” Donahue said about the roses. “That it’s just bizarre it’s in bloom in December. No foliage, just blossoms all over. … You wonder if it’s a larger trend or a freak of nature.”

People always say if you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a minute. So I guess historically weather is fickle here but I can’t help but be a little perturbed by it.

Here are the official weather stats–proof of the weather weirdness, if you will:

This December was the warmest on record in Providence, according to the National Weather Service in Taunton, Mass., which keeps weather records going back to 1904.

The average temperature for the month was 40.7 degrees at T.F. Green Airport — 6.8 degrees higher than normal.

There were 2 days when the temperature went above 60 degrees and 13 days when it went above 50 degrees.

Another Providence record was almost broken in 2006: the warmest year. The total average temperature was 53.3 degrees for 2006, second only to 54.4 degrees in 1949.

And here’s the official scientific explanation:

The strange climate is the result of cold Arctic air gathering around the North Pole and Russia, said William Babcock, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

As a result, the Northeast part of the United States got warm air from the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. “Our [weather] patterns are like a see-saw,” Babcock said. “If we get our patterns from Mexico, the cold air goes to the Rockies and the rest of the Midwest.”

It’s easy to be fooled by the mild weather into complacency, but there are drawbacks, even for New England gardeners and other nature lovers who like the idea of pansies and cherry blossoms in December:

At Blithewold, other odd plant events include daffodil bulbs sprouting and magnolia tree buds swelling, said Julie Morris, director of horticulture. The garden and arboretum staff cut about two bouquets’ worth of roses last month and they continued to trim the grass well into the middle of the month.

Morris said the daffodils should be fine, but the cherry trees will not replace their blossoms this spring. She said it would be hard to tell how the weather affected other plants until the next growing season.

At the Green Animals Topiary Garden, Donahue said he was concerned the warmth increased a fungus attack on some plant roots, which would need to be treated in the spring.

Another concern for Donahue is how the rest of the winter plays out.

If there is a gradual drop in temperature, most of the early blooming plant varieties in the garden should be fine. However, “One day, if we wake up and it’s 15 degrees and it stays that way, we can see some damage,” Donahue said.

I really don’t mind the odd seasonal plant damage, but let’s everyone hope that it’s a freak of nature and not a trend!

Photo courtesy of the Providence Journal.

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7 Comments to “More about our bizarre warm winter”

  1. Hi Caroline,

    I’m glad to find your blog — I’ll return to learn about green gardening.

    Re: The weather — I don’t believe this is freaky, just an outlyer in Mother Nature’s statistics and probabilities.

    We humans tend to believe that the range of weather we experience so far in our lives is the ‘normal range’ but in fact its just a small sample of what is possible. Same thing is true for the recorded weather in our history — a small sample.

    I’ve noticed that at our latitude the jet stream has much to say about our weather. I wouldn’t count on anther winter like this one next year — but I wouldn’t count it out either!

    But it does seem that we (I live in Mass) are at the beginning of climate change, doesn’t it? All the rain we got last year made me think we might start to look more like Seattle in a few years. If the winter continues to be AWOL, the Spring will be interesting — as Nature always is.

  2. I have really been perplexed by all the strange things I see sprouting, holding green leaves, or even blooming in our area. Looking at other garden blogs I see people with strawberries, snowdrops, and other flowers.

    Apart from my concerns for the bigger picture, I am more immediately concerned about my young evergreens – I really hope they don’t decide to burst their buds now! What will happen when that really cold spell decides to descend, and they’ve got their spring time clothes on?!?!?

  3. I wish there wasnt such a downside to the warmer winter weather, especially up here (way up here now) in Canada, but I know there is. For what its worth, we are ‘hoofing’ it these days, left our car behind, getting lots of walking in and doing a bit to cut down on emissions. It all helps,doesnt it.

    BFN, G

  4. This warm winter is really scary, because what will the summer of 2007 be like? I live in Dover, Delaware and it’s 58 degrees here right now at midnight. Some thing is really wrong I think.

  5. Hi Danielle. Something IS really wrong. They say it’s El Nino but I don’t buy it. I’m trying not to be lulled in by the lack of snow and cold. It feels like I’m having a party on someone’s grave!

  6. A very good description of how serious this weather trend really is C. I guess the politicians and co’s that are doing little or nothing to make the changes that are needed don’t give a damn about their children and grandchildren to come. As usual, more a…dragging up here, Im sure you have the same in the US.

    My latest peeve….why are air fresheners and fabric refreshers still be manufactured??? What about opening a window! How can this kind of junk be justified. Only a small part of the problem but so obviously not needed in any way.

  7. When you can, I hope you will stop by to see the “finished product” re: my cherry tree/haiku post. Thanks again for the confirmation of this being a cherry tree. Thought so but wasn’t sure.

    Hugs, G

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