Today is the day we winter-weary Northerners have been pining for.
Really, it is, at least as of 12:57 this afternoon. Never mind that the temperature isn’t supposed to climb much above 40.
It may not feel very springlike, but take heart: The season is progressing fairly normally, at least so far, said Denise Ellsworth, who keeps track of such things in her job at Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster Township.
That, of course, assumes there is such a thing as normal when it comes to Northeast Ohio’s weather.
“We do vary so much from year to year. It’s easy to be tricked into thinking this is abnormal,” said Ellsworth, who directs OSU’s honeybee and native pollinator education program. She is also one of the coordinators of a statewide garden network that helps scientists track nature’s progress each year.
Here in the Akron area, we’re roughly where we were last year on nature’s calendar, she said. We’re a little slow out of the box compared to the average for the last three decades, but we’re not lagging all that far behind.
Ellsworth based her assessment on phenology, the study of recurring natural events and their relationship to weather and climate. Phenology shows us that certain events — when a particular tree blooms, for example, or when a certain insect’s eggs hatch — are determined not by the calendar, but by how much warmth has accumulated in the year.
That temperature progress is measured in growing degree days, a value determined by a mathematical formula. Put simply, growing degree days are a running total of warmth that starts accumulating once the temperature gets high enough for nature to kick into gear.
As of Wednesday, Akron stood at 11 growing degree days for the year, tying 1993 for the lowest March 19 number since 1982. (That’s as far back as the data go in Ohio’s online phenology calendar. You can find it at www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/gdd, if you’re interested.)
Last year on March 19, the total was 32. The difference between the two years may seem big, but Ellsworth noted that one warm day could close the gap and let nature catch up quickly.
Both years’ numbers are below the 33-year average for the day, which is 42.6. But all those numbers are left in the dust by 2012’s total.
By March 19 of that year, 125 growing degree days had accumulated. The border forsythia had already reached full bloom, flowers were starting to open on callery pear trees, and we were days away from the first bloom of saucer magnolias.
That was just the beginning of a spring that was so weirdly warm that Cleveland Botanical Garden had to cancel its daffodil show in late April. There weren’t any daffodils left to show.
It’s still far too early to tell how this spring will stack up, said Dan Herms, an entomologist at OARDC and the creator of Ohio’s phenology calendar. “Whether or not we have an early spring depends on what happens between now and Tax Day” on April 15, he said.
One thing is certain, though, Herms said: On average, our springs are coming earlier.
You can’t tell that by looking at just a few years’ worth of numbers, but long-term data bear out the trend, he said.
As an example, he mentioned an 1887 report by the old Ohio Agricultural Experimental Station in Columbus, which included five years’ worth of bloom dates for trees and wildflowers. Herms said those plants bloomed later in Columbus in the 1880s than they do now in Wooster, even though Columbus’ spring is typically two weeks ahead of Wooster’s.
Just since the 1970s and ’80s, OARDC has seen a shift in the time its crab apple trees reach their peak bloom, Herms said. Back then, that used to happen around Mother’s Day weekend most years. Now, he said, the trees are done blooming by that time, even in the years when the holiday comes early.
So if this spring seems slow getting started, just think: If this were a century ago, we’d be even further behind.
Doesn’t that make 40 degrees feel a little better?
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or email@example.com. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckABJ and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.