Sunday, March 25, 2012

Spring in Kansas City: Really nice, but what does it mean long term?

“It’s February, and spring has finally come to San Antonio.”

Reading these words in the Sierra Club newsletter in 1997, during a March (it came a month late) in which spring had definitely not yet come to Chicago, we had to laugh. Although we found, when we moved to San Antonio that year, that spring not only came in February, but that it was not always clear that there was a winter between fall and spring. The trees had not yet finished losing their leaves when the new buds appeared. Spring, in whatever month, is a great season, and we enjoyed it in San Antonio as we looked forward, with less than excitement, to May, when temperatures would start to hit 90, or June when they went to 100, not likely to come persistently below until October. Still, we thought, better than a Chicago winter.

But what are we to make of this year in Kansas City? Kansas City is never as cold in the winter as Chicago, but this year it is San Antonio. We have had hardly any weeks this winter where the temperature didn’t go above 40 at least some of the time, and much of it has been above 50. For the last few weeks it has been above 60, and this week 3 days of over 80. And this was before St. Patrick’s Day! Everything is in bloom: magnolias are already losing their flowers; the fruit trees such as apple and especially the Bradford pears are in magnificent bloom. There are daffodils all over, and the little groundcover wildflowers, the clover and violets, are all visible. It is March, and spring has come full-bore to Kansas City. The beautiful redbuds that mean “spring” in this city are already in bloom.

 We just hope there is no freeze, to wipe it out. In Chicago sometimes there would be a few warm days in April, followed by a frost that killed all the buds, and Kansas City is certainly known to have its share of ice storms. Still, this is not a freakish few warm days; this is the reasonable follow-up to a winter that normally belongs several climate zones south of here.

And that, of course, is a concern. I am not complaining about not having had a chance to use the new snow boots I bought on sale in Winter Park, CO, last summer, nor to be without icy winds in my face. Winds, on the other hand, we have; it is Kansas. The days of 40 degrees felt frigid with the wind, and when it first was in the 60s, we went out lightly jacketed to freeze in the breeze. But with 80, it’s, well, 80, so you really need a gale to make it less than pleasant.

And gales we have had.  A couple of weeks ago there were dozens of tornadoes in the Southeast US. In February. There were some last year, but this year was worse. New York had major snowstorms, and there were hurricanes. There has hardly been a month without a big weather disaster. Yes, there are tornadoes and hurricanes and snowstorms every year, but for the last several years they are becoming more common more freakish, and more regular; so much so that the freakish is not so freakish anymore. But tell that to folks in Joplin, MO, or the smaller cities that have been devasted by tornadoes and other weather events.

Amazingly, there are still climate change deniers. Some have harped on the phrase “global warming” – which it is over the long term – when the weather change has led to colder weather with more snow in the winter. They can’t argue that what we have in Kansas City – and all over the Midwest, where the temperatures are higher, and planting zones have moved north (we brought crepe myrtles in pots from San Antonio 10 years ago; despite being uncommon then they survived the winter with good mulching and are now doing well; turns out they have become common in KC nurseries now).

So I look out the window at the flowering trees, rub my eyes from early tree allergies, enjoy the warmth, and worry about the future of the planet.

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