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Weather Report

Last week most of the East Coast had an extraordinary warm spell. In interior Southern New England, we had four very warm days in a row. On Feb 23 and 24 it reached 72 degrees at our local official recording station, the highest temperatures ever recorded here in the month of February. The spell broke on the evening of the 25th with a tornado in the Berkshires. Unbelievable, a tornado in the hills of Western Massachusetts in February. I wouldn’t be surprised if that has not happened in hundreds of thousands of years.

We opened windows at our house because the outside temperature was warmer than the air inside. But it wasn't only humans who reacted to the freakish weather. A flock of Red-wing Blackbirds descended on my backyard bird feeders. Since Robins now are year-round residents in our area, the Red-wing’s arrival has become the new harbinger of spring. Usually they show up at the end of March, but not this year. A few flies and other insects were also out and about.

I know the difference between weather (the conditions at any given place at a given time) and climate (the range of conditions you can expect in your region over an annual cycle). No single weather event proves climate change, let alone the extent of that change. But this year’s winter season, sprinkled throughout with region-wide record warmth, appears to be a preview of what will become common in the near future.

This year’s winter at my house was milder than those I experienced as a teenager in the New York City area. I know this is true because I kept daily weather records for many years. This winter’s local climate approximated that found in the Washington, DC area in the 1960’s. That’s a 400 mile shift northward in 50 years. Intellectually, we can extrapolate that another 50 years (years we hope today’s children will live to see), and factor in the accelerating rate of change, but can we wrap our brains around a Florida-like winter in New England by 2067?

Our concerns should be even more immediate. New England is still subject to polar out-breaks. It can be warmer than average most of the time, but we remain vulnerable to short, but brutal, cold-snaps. We face unusual warmth, coupled with more erratic conditions. For instance, last winter was also very mild. It featured an early spring, but an April cold-snap destroyed the region’s peach crop because it killed the blossoms that had opened too early. I hope the premature return of the Red-wings does not mean their fledgelings will be born too soon and suffer a similar fate this spring.

Scientists have been saying for decades that we are running out of time. That has happened. Four beautifully warm days in February may seem benign (except for the tornado), but they are a sign that climate chaos is upon us. We have to admit it, face it and take it on. Humanity, Red-wings and fruit blossoms are all worth fighting for no matter the final outcome.  Read More 
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