February 8, 2021 /
Jona Elwell

Spring Outlook

We’re about halfway through winter and snow is still on the ground. While we’re enjoying the most significant snow we’ve had in years, we’re always looking ahead to the most wonderful time around here: spring! Will this year follow years past and have spring crop up sooner rather than later?

While it has snowed quite a bit here, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve plunged into an Arctic winter. A Washington Post article summed it up best, noting that before the snow, it was another mild January, “Our ongoing and record-long streak of 727 days (including today) with high temperatures above freezing continues to pull away from the old record of 702, which ended in December 1998. The lack of freezing days fits into a long-term trend toward fewer and fewer.” 

The cold and snow may have arrived, but it doesn’t change the overall signal of less harsh winter weather and more mild conditions in recent decades. So does that mean, ready or not, spring is on its way?

Not so fast says famed groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil.  Since he saw his shadow on Tuesday, according to lore we have six more weeks of winter! While we love folklore around here we also love a slightly more scientifically significant way to monitor seasonal changes – phenology!

A refresher on phenology for those who need it: plants and animals don’t have calendars or watches, but many of them take cues from the changing seasons. Phenology studies the timing of the biological events in plants and animals such as flowering, leafing, hibernation, reproduction, and migration. Tree people are really interested in phenology as it relates to tree leaves and the emergence of pests that threaten our beloved trees. 

Spring Leaf Out map courtesy of the National Phenology Network

Despite all the snow we’ve received, according to the National Phenology Network spring is already on its way, almost 20 days early in some places! (It should be noted that spring is considered by the timing of leaf-out or bloom for species active in early spring). 

So is spring knocking on our door? Not necessarily. The recently released February Outlook by the Capital Weather Gang noted “it could be our snowiest February in six years” and noted, “our cold-weather season is mostly missing and it shows little sign of returning in February.”

While it might be a snowy February, who knows what awaits us in March – remember the warmth of last season or the cold snap of 2018?

Jealous of all the beautiful flowers and blooming trees that are heading our way? Looking to add a burst of spring to your yard? We have some early bloomers that will bring a smile to your face (for free!) and contribute to DC’s urban forest.

Article photo of Upshur Recreation Center by Bekah Richards on Flickr.