March 12, 2017


OK, as I write this the Girls State Basketball Tournament is officially over and there was no "traditional" March snowstorm. By the time you are reading this the Boys Tournament will be nearing completion and although there is some wintery kind of weather in the forecast, it sounds pretty manageable.

So, I am going to go out on a limb and say that I think spring is here. I know that official spring is only a couple of weeks away anyway so that isn't much for earth-shattering news. But at least now I am feeling more confident in writing what I (and a whole lot of other people) have been thinking (and wishing and hoping) since the terribly unseasonable weather that we had to endure a few weeks ago. Many of us can remember other warm, open winters when we wore jackets more often than coats but kids running to the school bus in shorts just doesn't happen very often in February.

I fielded my share of questions over the past number of weeks about this weather. And the wildlife sightings that callers had concerning robin and other spring migrant sightings. Some migrant birds generally show up in the Christmas bird counts but given what migrant species I was seeing this weekend, along with other signs, I think spring has sprung.

My drive to Cedar Falls on Sunday yielded sightings of robins, red-winged blackbirds, and meadowlarks. I have also had reports of turkey vultures and bluebirds. And I can't begin to keep track of all the pairs of geese staking out their territories. If I was a betting man, I would even say there were active nests already.

Most plants and animals respond to increasing day length and temperature to trigger different phases of their life cycles as winter moves toward spring. Temperature changes trigger sap flow back and forth and buds begin to swell. Vanishing ground frost brings earth worms back to the surface. The warmth of the past month has been a gift to most humans, but it has also jump-started many other things. Some of them are well outside their "normal" timing and could be harmed.

Take buds for example. Some are flower buds. Depending on species and what the rest of late winter and early spring bring for temperatures, they may try to bloom weeks before they normally do. Even with a warm, early spring, Iowa is still vulnerable to late season cold snaps with frost and even freezes well into May. A few hours of mid-20 degree cold at the most vulnerable time in a plant's reproductive cycle may be enough to kill flower buds that would have become summer's apples, cherries, and pears. Next fall's acorns and other nuts can also be knocked out. That, in turn, affects food supplies that many of our native birds and animals require to prepare themselves for next winter.

Most deciduous trees actually have two sets of leaf buds. If leaves begin to emerge (as I suspect some will soon) and then are hit with extended hours of very cold temps, there actually is a backup set that can develop. What a wonderful thing to be given.

Most things will even out in the next few weeks ahead. Don't they say records are made to be broken and this may be a record breaking year. And, of course, this is Iowa. Everyone who calls this place home must be ready to adapt to the unexpected.


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