ArticleDownload Worksheet March 9th, 2012
Mild Winter, Early Spring Bring Talk of Climate Change
Unusual plants are thriving, flowers are blooming early and the map of what plants can be grown where has been updated for the first time in more than 20 years in a winter that has been unusually mild for most of the U.S. Although people are enjoying the early bursts of color and warm temperatures, scientists warn that a consistent warming trend could be problematic for plants.
Across the country, spring flowers like daffodils and crocuses were already blooming at the end of February, and magnolia trees were getting ready to flower on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Much of the country experienced very mild temperatures over the winter, with little snow and little chance for plants to become truly dormant.
“On the one hand, it’s great to see flowers this early — it lifts your spirits,” Dennis Mardon, a lifelong gardener, told the New York Times. “On the other hand, it creates apprehension. Gardens need an opportunity to rest, and that’s what a good winter provides.”
What are the downsides?
Scientists say that if warm weather comes too early, plants may think spring is here to stay and form blooms when there is still potential for frost. If a frost comes after a plant has bloomed, the blooms die and wither and the plant won’t form flowers again. Spring is also much more spread out when warm weather comes early, making a sudden burst of color in April or May unlikely.
In addition, pollination becomes more difficult when plants’ blooming schedules change because pollinating insects – mainly honeybees – don’t know to come out and pollinate plants when they bloom early. Pollination is necessary for plants because an insect takes the pollen and fertilizes the part of the plant that makes fruit.
Finally, many pests that threaten plants are expected to thrive this year because there were very few deep freezes to kill them and their eggs during the winter.
New guidelines for gardeners
Farmers and gardeners use a map put out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to determine what they should plant for the climate where they live. The map is organized by climate ‘zones.’
For the first time since 1990, the USDA has updated the climate zone map to reflect warmer temperatures in much of the country. For example, Cleveland, Ohio used to be in zone five, but under the new map, it’s now in zone six.
The map below is the new version just released by the USDA.
Is climate change at fault?
Many wonder whether early spring and plant zone changes are signs of larger climate change trends.
Kim Kaplan, chief of special projects at the USDA, told the NewsHour that the map changes don’t necessarily mean climate change is an ongoing phenomenon – it just means the map technology has gotten more accurate since the 1990s, down to a tenth of a degree.
“Some places have gotten warmer and some places have gotten more accurate,” she said.
However, other scientists are on the lookout for similar climate patterns in the coming years that could signal ongoing change. David W. Wolfe, a professor of plant and soil ecology at Cornell University and an expert on climate change, told the New York Times that this extremely mild winter was a rarity and probably not the new norm.
“It’s a rare event,” he said. “But I think it will become less rare.”
–Compiled by Veronica DeVore for NewsHour Extra
Submit Your Student Voice
Tooltip of RSS content 3
Student Reporting Labs STEM Lesson Plan: Climate Change, Salmon and NOAA
In this PBS Student Reporting Labs video, Oregon teens consult government agencies on the consequences of unchecked human actions on the natural environment. Problems associated with warming waters, climate change, and suburban development, brings the expression “think globally, act locally” home with the very real impacts on the commercially important sock-eye salmon of the Pacific Northwest. Students are exposed to the work of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the research and resources they provide. Continue readingagricultureartbiologychemistrydroughtearth scienceecologyenvironmental sciencefishNOAAoceanographysalmonScienceSocial StudiesSRLstudent reporting labs
Gerrymandering and partisan politics in the U.S.
The practice of drawing congressional district lines to benefit one political party over another is known as gerrymandering and dates back to the 19th century. Continue readingCivicsDemocratic PartyDemocratsElection 2016gerrymandergerrymanderingGovernmentRepublican PartyRepublicansSocial Studiesstate legislature
Debating Our Destiny: Do Presidential Debates Matter? – Lesson Plan
The presidential debates have been an important part of the U.S. election process for decades, but how much do they really influence voters? In this lesson, students will watch video clips from PBS NewsHour’s “Debating Our Destiny” with Jim Lehrer, which includes famous debate moments as well as interviews with the candidates themselves. Continue readingCivicsdebatingDonald TrumpElection 2016Hillary ClintonJim LehrerLee Banvillepresidential debatesSocial Studies
Where do the presidential candidates stand on education?
As Election Day approached, the candidates running for president have made and effort to appeal to parents, teachers and students by showing them where they stand on education.CampaignDonald TrumpeducationElection 2016Hillary Clinton
Candidates cite security qualifications after weekend attacks
Following pipe bomb attacks over the weekend, the presidential candidates each took a moment to assure voters of their national security qualifications. Continue readingCampaignElection 2016extremismterrorist attacks