Weather: weird, worrying or wonderful?

This afternoon we took a break to walk 20 minutes to the supermarket. We dressed in shorts and short sleaves. Along the way a Forsythia and crocuses were in full bloom. Normally in Guelph we might expect to see these things a month from now. Meanwhile buds were bursting on a magnolia, a dogwood, a maple and a lilac, all six weeks ahead. Spring is burning to catch up with itself. It is lovely. It is also frightening.

Extreme weather is normal, but this is no quick flash. The average winter daily high here was above freezing. Looking at it a different way, the daytime temperature only stayed below freezing 18 times between Dec. 22 and the Mar. 21. The weather is expected to cool off Friday, but there is still no sign of frost in the long-range forecast.

What place is this? Surely not Ontario? Our normal last frost date around here is supposed to be May 9. Setting aside the bigger question of climate change, we ought to consider how this affects our environment, economy and food sources right now. Add to this heat a lack of rain and we have a long trend of extremely unusual conditions. Global warming was supposed to bring an economic advantage to cooler temperate climates like this. Farmers must be tempted to plant their crops early, but no one living can assess the risk of planting in Ontario in March.

As soon as I finish digging the backyard garden I intend to plant lettuce, peas and onions, things that tolerate cool weather and frost. If I decide to plant tomatoes a month early, I risk only a few dollars’ worth of seeds and supplies. It is not my livelihood.

The dry weather is bound to kill off blackflies and mosquitoes early. People will not complain about that. Birds, on the other hand, might suffer severely. As swallows and warblers begin arriving hungry after migrating thousands of kilometres, who can say whether a suitable diet will await them? No one has performed this experiment before.

One thing we can expect: plenty of strange weather variations to come. Hunter Lovins of Rocky Mountain Institute called it “global weirding.” Right here and now, it is beautiful, but we should all be a little frightened. Besides that, I must admit to a fascination about what happens next, and how the world will adapt.


Comments

Weather: weird, worrying or wonderful? — 2 Comments

  1. The weather is indeed weird. And concerning. We had decent snowfalls here today. In the first month of Autum, in the land of Indian summers.

    Most ecological systems are highly complex. This degree of complexity can only evolve where conditions are highly stable over long periods of time. This allows organisms to specialise and fill niches. A rapidly changing climate (rapid in geological terms) such as we are starting to experience now is highly unstable and will cause a loss of viable niches and the species that occupy them. The cascading effects of these losses through complex ecosystems cannot be predicted.

    All we can say is that things will change, specialist species will be lost and generalists will prevail. The significance of these changes remains to be seen.

    • To a fan of rare birds, wildflowers and so on, this sounds like a heart-breaking future. It’s inevitable though. I read a fascinating new book last year: Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World by Emma Marris. It suggests that we have to break away from preservationist philosophies about the environment. For example the strategy of trying to eliminate exotic and invasive organisms is counter-productive when climate change is going on. Invaders are usually generalists that will contribute to a more stable ecosystem. It doesn’t recommend ignoring the plight of endangered species though. We just need to adopt a more flexible approach to conservation.

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