Another Warm Winter?
Last Sunday, I went hiking in shorts and a T-shirt.
It was Dec. 9 and in Blowing Rock. How can this be? Where is our High Country snow?
Five out of the 10 warmest winters since the mid-1800s have occurred in just the past 20 years.
Most scientists agree that this warming trend is due to a combination of climate change and other weather patterns.
Currently, La Niña conditions in the Pacific and strong pressure systems in the North Atlantic have trapped the coldest air up near the Arctic Circle.
It is -13 degrees Fahrenheit at the North Pole today.
A mild winter can have sweeping effects in the natural world. It can cause animals to prematurely awaken from hibernation, plants to bud early and strain natural balances. Last year, scientists dubbed warm winters as having “The Jumanji Effect.”
Not to worry. African lions and elephants will not be raiding the High Country any time soon.
Though, what we could see after another mild winter are more turkeys and deer. A harsh winter causes these non-hibernating species to experience winter-related fatalities; culling out the weaker of the animals. In warm weather, their populations will boom. They will deplete food supplies faster than usual.
Hibernating animals will awaken early if the weather continues to stay warm. There will be very little natural food for them to eat if they become active before spring.
These animals, among many others, will have to resort to alternative food sources in order to survive. Be prepared for black bears in your garbage cans and deer in your gardens.
Also, higher deer populations can cause an increase in tick numbers. Warm winters also bring about higher numbers of mosquitoes in the summer.
If the weather stays warm through winter, plants might bud early. If the bud dies in a late frost, there will be no flower or fruit. This means no acorn to feed the deer and no apple to feed the farmer.
This is not to say that we are certainly going to experience another warm winter. I have never been one to bet on a High Country weather forecast, as our weather seems to be as unpredictable as it gets.
This naturalist is still dreaming of a white Christmas.
If you have a question concerning flora and fauna, please email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Amy Renfranz is an interpretive park guide on the Blue Ridge Parkway. She is a certified naturalist through the Yellowstone Institute and a certified environmental educator in the state of North Carolina. Her comments are made independently and do not reflect the views of the National Park Service.