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
How fake news about a DNC staffer’s murder buoyed conspiracies
The murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich in July 2016 has led to a conspiracy theory based on unfounded claims linking Rich to WikiLeaks. Continue readingDNCfake newsFox NewsJournalismMedia Literacynews literacySeth RichSocial Studies
Lesson Plan: How to create a balanced budget — it’s a ‘Balancing Act’
How do we know that our government is fulfilling its duties to us, the public? How do we decide what those duties are? As efforts to pass the federal budget get underway, students will have the power to re-prioritize how money is spent using the interactive tool Balancing Act. What changes will they make? Continue readingBalancing ActBudgetbusiness educationEconomicseconomyfederal budgetFederal GovernmentGovernment & CivicshistoryPresidentSocial StudiesState Governmenttaxes
Young conservatives: Climate change is an issue for all of us
There is a growing movement among young conservatives, including evangelical Christians, who support environmental regulations. They say it’s important to act as faithful stewards of the earth. One group, the Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, has grown to 10,000 members in the past five years. Continue readingcarbon taxChristianityclimate changeclimate scienceconservatismconservativeevangelicalfossil fuelsGlobal WarmingGovernment & CivicsideologyPoliticsReligionScienceSocial Studies
Should seat belts be mandatory on school buses?
School districts around the country are debating whether or not to require seat belts on school buses. Requiring seat belts comes at a high cost for school districts already struggling with tight budgets. Continue readingbusDebateenglishEnglish & Language ArtsMaking the Gradeschool busschool busesschool safetyseat beltSocial Studies
Lesson plan: What’s your “Brief but Spectacular” take?
Every Thursday night, the PBS NewsHour profiles people and their passions in the series Brief but Spectacular. Creator Steve Goldbloom and his producing partner Zach Land-Miller wanted to find a new way to share original voices the public might otherwise not see. Now you can join the fun… Continue readingbrief but spectacularELAenglishEnglish & Language ArtsEnglish language learnersfilmIdentitySocial Studiesvideo