State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

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Spring Sprang Early: Should We Worry?

Last month was the warmest March ever recorded in the U.S, according to the National Weather Service. Here in the northeast, we saw daffodils, tulips and the other colorful banners that signal spring unfurl a few weeks earlier than usual.

Even though average temperatures were breaking records, however, the early flowering wasn’t extreme or unusual, says Robert Naczi, the curator of North American Botany at the New York Botanical Garden, one of the five institutions that form the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation Consortium. Naczi met with science writer Naomi Lubick and I during a recent trip to the botanical garden to discuss early blooms and their impacts on ecosystems.

While studies [for example, this one] do show that flowers and other plants are blooming earlier and earlier on average because of overall warming trends, this year’s early fireworks were “certainly well within the realm of experience for the species native to this area,” he says.

As for this spring’s record setting-warmth, climate change probably played only a minor role, says Tony Barnston, chief forecaster at the Earth Institute’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society. Barnston recently told the Wall Street Journal that the more likely culprit was a “very wobbly and warped version” of a large-scale climate pattern known as the North Atlantic Oscillation, which tends to produce warmer than normal winters in the Northeast and in Europe.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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