Autumn is here, and winter is approaching. But according to scientists, it will be coming much later this year, and it will be leaving earlier, too.
This is a sign of climate change, according to climate scientists, but it is not a brand new phenomenon. The first freeze of the year has been arriving later and later every year since about 1980, according to data collected from 700 weather stations across the United States since 1895. For the last ten years, the first freeze has been on average one week later than it was from 1971 to 1980. As of October 23rd of this year, only about 40% of the 48 continental states has had a freeze. Typically, 65% of the states should have had a freeze by now.
But not only is the freeze coming later every year. It is also not lasting as long as it used to. In 2016, the last spring frost was nine days earlier than usual, on average. The overall freezing season for the U.S. in 2016 was over a month shorter than it was 100 years previous, in 1916. For some areas it was much worse. For example, in Oregon the freeze season was a full two months shorter than it should have been.
The shorter winter season is not all bad news, though. It does mean that the growing season is longer. This can result in a greater abundance of fruits and vegetables, which can also mean lower prices for produce at the grocery store. But for plants that require a chill to grow, this warmer weather is harmful. Also, the increase in the number of devastating storms the United States has hurt farming as much as the longer growing season has helped.
There’s also plenty of other negative consequences of a shorter winter. Pests that are typically killed off after the first freeze are living longer. This gives them more time to attack plants and spread diseases, like the Zika virus, among people. People who suffer from seasonal allergies are also dealing with their symptoms for much longer. This can have severe consequences for people who have respiratory illnesses like asthma.
The weather has also had an impact on monarch butterflies. They have stayed up north far longer than they should because the weather did not change on time, which would have given them their cue to begin migration. Because of this, many won’t survive their migration when they begin it.
While people are happy to have a reprieve from shoveling snow and bundling up to go outside, scientists generally agree that the long-term effects of a shortened winter are not good for anyone. Now, they just need to figure out a way to put an end to the trend or deal with it somehow.