Science Says: Jack Frost nipping at your nose ever later This Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017 photo provided by Margaret Primack shows her husband, Richard, in their home garden in Boston, still growing and productive. (Margaret Primack via AP/David McKeown/Republican-Herald via AP)
Science Says: Jack Frost nipping at your nose ever later
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Across the United States, the year's first freeze has been arriving further and further into the calendar. That's according to more than a century of measurements from weather stations nationwide.

Scientists say it is yet another sign of the changing climate. This has has good and bad consequences for the nation. There could be more fruits and vegetables, but there also could be more allergies and pests.

"I'm happy about it,” said Karen Duncan of Streator, Illinois. Her flowers are in bloom because she's had no frost this year yet. She had none last year at this time either. On the other hand, she said just last week it was too hot and buggy to go out. For her, that means in late October, near Chicago.

The trend of ever later first freezes appears to have started around 1980. That's according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data from 700 weather stations across the U.S. going back to 1895. It was compiled by Ken Kunkel, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Centers for Environmental Information.

Kunkel compared the first freeze from each of the 700 stations to the station's average for the 20th Century. Some parts of the country experience earlier or later freezes every year, but on average freezes are coming later.

The average first freeze over the last 10 years, from 2007 to 2016, is a week later than the average from 1971 to 1980, before the trend became noticeable, Kunkel said.

This year, about 40 percent of the Lower 48 states have had a freeze as of Oct. 23. That is compared to 65 percent in a normal year, according to Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private service Weather Underground.

Duncan's flowers should be dead by now. According to data from the weather station near her in Ottawa, Illinois, the average first freeze for the 20th century was Oct. 15. The normal from 1981 to 2010 based on NOAA computer simulations was Oct. 19. Since 2010, the average first freeze is on Oct. 26. Last year, the first freeze in Ottawa came on Nov. 12.

Last year was "way off the charts" nationwide, Kunkel said. The average first freeze was two weeks later than the 20th century average, and the last frost of spring was nine days earlier than normal.

Overall the United States freeze season of 2016 was more than a month shorter than the freeze season of 1916. It was most extreme in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon's freeze season was 61 days - two months - shorter than normal.

Global warming has helped push the first frosts later, Kunkel and other scientists said. Also at play, though, are natural short-term changes in air circulation patterns - but they too may be influenced by man-made climate change, they said.

This shrinking freeze season is what climate scientists have long predicted, said University of Oklahoma meteorology professor Jason Furtado.

A shorter freeze season means a longer growing season and less money spent on heat. But it also hurts some plants that require a certain amount of chill, such as Georgia peaches, said Theresa Crimmins, a University of Arizona ecologist. Crimmins is assistant director of the National Phenology Network. Phenology is the study of the seasons and how plants and animals adapt to timing changes.

Pests that attack trees and spread disease aren't being killed off as early as they normally would be, Crimmins said.

In New England, many trees aren't changing colors as vibrantly as they normally do or used to because some take cues for when to turn from temperature, said Boston University biology professor Richard Primack.

Clusters of late-emerging monarch butterflies are being found far further north than normal for this time of year, and are unlikely to survive their migration to Mexico.

Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said natural variability, especially an El Nino, made last year exceptional for an early freeze, but "it represents the kind of conditions that will be more routine in a decade or two" because of man-made climate change.

"The long-term consequences are really negative," said Primack, because shorter winters and hotter temperatures are also expected to lead to rising seas that cause worse flooding during heavy storms.

In suburban Boston, Primack and his wife are still eating lettuce, tomatoes and green beans from their garden. And they are getting fresh figs off their backyard tree almost daily.

"These fig trees should be asleep," Primack said.

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COMMENTS (52)
  • SarahT-del
    11/05/2017 - 04:57 p.m.

    The weather now is warmer than usual. Yes, it is another form of climate change which is bad and good. Animals and plants are confused and will have to adapt. We wont see first frosts until probably later. Which is good because now we have the time to grow fruits and vegetables. Yet we need to be concerned what we're doing to the earth and notice that we're changing it.

  • EthanG-del1
    11/05/2017 - 06:28 p.m.

    it hurts many plants and trees.

  • ChloeT-del
    11/05/2017 - 07:09 p.m.

    This article is about how the warm weather is changing and impacting our lives and the environments of others. Because of global warming and the heat, plants have been thriving but some adapt to colder temperatures. In order for others to thrive, there must be balance. If there is a more colder or warmer climate, there will be no balance and it will be difficult to survive.

  • JaredI-del
    11/05/2017 - 08:28 p.m.

    the pollution in the air is making the air warmer. we need to try and keep are air clean.

  • JaredI-del
    11/05/2017 - 08:44 p.m.

    The weather is warmer because of the pollution in the air. We need to clean up the pollution in the air to help the air get cooler.

  • WilliamF-del
    11/05/2017 - 08:49 p.m.

    Hot weather is not always a good thing even though me may like it. Most plants grow in warm weather but some plants such as the Georgia Peaches need a little "chill" to grow. We get an increased amount of yearly disastrous weather. This is all caused by Global Warming. This is a problem that was caused by us and we need to fix it. In other words we burned up the o-zone layer by being irresponsible. Even though we cause it, lots of other weather patterns and wildlife are [mostly] negatively effected by this. We have to fix it but at the moment we're not helping the situation.

  • SamanthaM-del1
    11/06/2017 - 05:23 p.m.

    Scientists are noticing that the weather is a lot warmer then usual. they think that this must be a sign of climate change. In conclusion, on the bright side- we'll have many more plants, flowers, and gardens. On the bad side, we will have more allergies, worse weather, and animals living in cold areas that need warm weather to live in

  • HannahR -del
    11/06/2017 - 05:32 p.m.

    Scientists say it is yet another sign of the changing climate. This has has good and bad consequences for the nation. There could be more fruits and vegetables, but there also could be more allergies and pests.


    This year, about 40 percent of the Lower 48 states have had a freeze as of Oct. 23. That is compared to 65 percent in a normal year, according to Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private service Weather Underground.

  • PriscillaD-del
    11/06/2017 - 05:50 p.m.

    The idea of the main idea is that the year's first freeze has been arriving further and further into the calendar; it's coming later and later. What we could do to help the situation is maybe have a separate living environment for the plants, because this weather is helping and worsening the plants (and or fruits).

  • JohnB-del1
    11/06/2017 - 05:50 p.m.

    The passage is talking about the climate changing and causing the earth to get warmer and make it difficult for some people like they will have more allergies. We could also have to face more bugs and maybe animals the world.This will cause to adapt to the changing weather.

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