Last month, as the Mid-South basked in the June-like warmth of an early March sun, one question burned in everyone’s mind. Had spring really sprung?
Most of the flowers and plants I saw seemed to have thought so. So did oak trees, lawns, Palmer pigweed, poison ivy and all that loose pet hair suddenly floating around. As early as March 15, sinus-seeking, prickly grains of pollen had allergy sufferers wondering if the bird of paradise had flown up their nose – and died there.
If it wasn’t spring, it was close enough for discomfort.
As warm March weather extended into late March and early April, more questions arose. Have the seasons shifted? Are we in for a hot summer? Will a late frost steal a quickly-maturing Mid-South wheat crop? Should Al Gore get back on the global warming speaker circuit?
These are good questions, mostly, ones Mid-Southerners don’t ask every year. So I posed them to a man with a rare ability to put all the strange weather into perspective, Drew Lerner, senior agricultural meteorologist with World Weather, Inc.
Lerner says the reason for the early spring warm weather is simple. When the high pressure area that normally sits over the Arctic is strong, it pushes cold air southward, creating cooler temperatures in North America. If the system is weak, as it has been this spring, it doesn’t push cold air south, allowing warm air to move north, creating warmth and an early burst of spring.
Lerner believes that after a cool snap the second week of April – which may threaten the Mid-South’s early-maturing wheat crop – “normal” cooler weather will move in for the rest of the month.
Lerner doesn’t think there’s too much trouble brewing for the summer. “I think the Delta will have its moments of dry weather, but I think it will also have some timely rainfall. I don’t expect the heat to be as punishing as it’s been the last couple of years.”
Lerner doesn’t believe adequate weather data is available to discern whether the early spring constitutes a shift in seasons. He believes a short-term disturbance of regular weather is more likely.
“While we’ve had warm weather in North America, it’s been quite cold in Europe and parts of Asia. It’s just a matter of time before North America gets back into colder weather. The comments we will be making next winter will be a lot different from those we’re making today.”
While weather has become more volatile in recent years, Lerner again cites a lack of long-term perspective as to root causes.
“I don’t think you can say it has anything to do with global warming. I think it has to do with cycles. If we had records that went back more than 118 years, we would find that this has happened many times in the past.”
Hmm, maybe Lerner should hit the speaker circuit instead of Al Gore.