It may be that Valentine’s Day was dreamt up to brighten one of the Northeast’s most gloomy months.
But this year crocuses emerged even before the holiday’s hearts. And sugar maple trees are already dripping sap.
Farm Educator Rebecca Fahey noted this week that the beef herd is about to start calving, when asked if life at Appleton Farms has shifted with the warm winds and snowless days.
“Yes,” she acknowledged, “(calving is) actually a little earlier this year.”
As for the milk herd, the weather doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact. Unlike the beef cows, the jersey cows of Appleton’s dairy herd calf yearround. “(The warm temperatures) have been nice for the winter calves,” she said.
This winter there has been lots of talk about the weather.
The mild temperatures have had skiers grumbling, shovelers smiling and the lips of those who pay the oil bill zipped shut. After all, shoulder knots are only just now loosening from shoveling last winter’s buckets of snow. Cause aside, there is change in the climate.
“It’s something I’m cognizant of,” says Matt Ulrich of Ulrich Bachand Landscape Architecture in Wenham. “We’re planting things that are more adaptable. We plant for the future.”
Explaining that those in his field are on the leading edge when it comes to responding to climate change, Ulrich sharpened the focus by mentioning the importance of storm water management.
“I think about it all the time,” he said.
Others, who’s work it is to study the climate, have statistical proof that something’s amiss. Looking at recorded temperatures for “meteorological winter” (the months December, January and February) over the past 30 years, this year is close to record breaking.
“It’s likely to be one of the top three warmest winters,” said geoscientist Michael Rawlins, manager of the Climate Systems Research Center at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
“The cold air has been locked up, confined to the northern latitudes, the jet stream has not dipped far south,” he said.
Though he allows that the winter we are experiencing is an anomaly, he is quick to steer the conversation back to hard science saying, “This is weather, this is not climate. Don’t confuse weather with climate.”
Asked what might account for the extreme variability of our winters, Rawlins says that his colleague Judah Cohen of Atmospheric and Environmental Research in Lexington might have an answer - loss of sea ice.
According to Cohen, the melting of Arctic sea ice - which is occurring at an accelerating rate - is releasing large amounts of moisture into the air. This year the pattern of jet stream oscillation impacted by an atmospheric pressure pattern which circles the High Northern Hemisphere called the Arctic Oscillation, is causing this moisture to increase snowfall in Siberia.
This heavy snow coverage is then greatly lowering temperatures in Eastern Europe. Similarly the oscillation accounts for this region’s mild, dry winter.
If Cohen’s theory proves correct, it won't mean that we can expect the trend of mild winters to continue. Rather, we can expect a wobbling pattern of winters. Mild dry ones will follow cold, wet years. The model may make the lives of meteorologists easier, but the same may not be true for migratory birds and sugar maples.