Photo by Corey Husic

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The winter that hasn't been

So let’s start today’s post with some weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA for Allentown, PA comparing the average monthly temperature for fall and winter 2011/12 vs. the 1981-2010 averages for these months:

September '11:          67.3⁰F vs. 64.3⁰F
October '11:               53.8⁰F vs. 53.1⁰F
November '11:          46.6⁰F vs. 43.3⁰F
December '11:           38.4⁰F vs. 32.9⁰F
January '12:               33.3⁰F vs. 28.5⁰F

The annual average for the entire year of 2011 was 53.2⁰F vs. 51.7⁰F. 

This type of information can be found at

The last I heard from the WNEP meteorologists (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area), we are on track for having a winter with the least amount of snow in at least 60 years.  The freak snowstorm in October technically didn’t occur in “winter”.  There are deficits in snowfall around the country, but parts of Alaska and Europe are experiencing unusually heavy snowfalls compared to their norms (whatever that means any more).    A good source of information about weather patterns, changes, and extremes around the globe:

Forsythias blooming -- at the end of November?
Wonder what the spring bloom will be like?
Photos by Judy Krasnicke

So what happens in nature when the temperatures have been unusually mild and the snowfall almost non-existent?  Going back to November, I had reports of the forsythias blooming from Saucon Valley up to Scranton.  Throughout the late fall, there were numerous reports of dandelions (even at the end of December) and flowers on Creeping Phlox (11/22 in Easton), ground ivy (end of December in Bethlehem), and Hellebores (Bethlehem).

Confused plants -- note the dates
Photos by Judy Krasnicke
In mid-November, there were reports of skunk cabbage emerging in the Lehigh Valley.  Such early reports have continued with reports of blooms on January 1st from the PPL Riverlands and Bottomlands along the Susquehanna River to plants emerging in Sciota (Monroe County, north of the Kittatinny Ridge) on February 3rd.

Emerging Skunk Cabbage
Photo by Corey Husic
Today (February 5th), the buds of the aconite and snowdrops were almost open.  Last year, they opened on February 18th and that was early for north of the Ridge.  Snowdrops have been blooming in Bethlehem for over a month.  Several people have reported that the daffodil plants have emerged by several inches.  The tiny-flowers of the creeping speedwell (a Veronica) have been blooming throughout our yard since December.

Bald Eagles will stay around as long as there is open water for them.  They have been reported in Wyoming County into early January and again this past week.  Last weekend we saw them flying along the north edge of the Kittatinny Ridge.  The snow geese have stayed at Green Pond and the surrounding flooded fields since that area hasn’t frozen over.  The swirling flocks in early morning and late in the day are quite an awesome sight, especially when the sunlight hits them just right.  It is worth the drive to see the shimmering rows of pearls rising and twirling over the fields or flying in large flocks overhead.  The forty year Pennsylvania winter population of snow geese has increased almost 270,000 % according to data from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count (a thank you to Greg Butcher from Audubon for this information).  This rate of increase is significantly higher than the continental trend.

I have had several reports of Black Vultures north of the Kittatinny Ridge from Monroe to Luzerne Counties.  Over the past forty years, the winter population of this species has increased in the state by about 83,000%, again rising at a rate higher than the continental trend.  We have also been seeing Turkey Vultures north of the Ridge over the past two weeks.  While it is not unusual to see vultures in the Lehigh Valley and southward over the winter, it is quite unusual north of the mountain.

According to the PA Birds List Serve and eBird, there have been reports of American Woodcocks (January 4, 2012 in southern Chester County; January 7, 2012 in Berks County, January 8, 2012 in Schuylkill County; and January 31st in Pottsville).  We expected to hear them hear when the temperatures hit the 60’s this past week, but didn’t perhaps because we got home from school and work too late in the day.  Be on the lookout for Woodcocks and let us know when and where you see (or more likely hear) these.

On January 31st, a Gray Catbird was reported in Wilkes-Barre.  And yesterday, at the Eureka Road Pond near Snydersville, a pair of mute swans was observed, with the male going through some mating ritual behaviors.

Yesterday, my retriever brought me something in his mouth.  It turned out to be a frog (probably a wood frog)!  We suspect it came out when the temps reached the 60’s earlier in the week, but didn’t survive the cold night.  Very strange.

Last year, we planned to launch the Eastern PA Phenology Project around March 1st.  We had mild weather in February, and soon realized that events of nature often associated with spring were already happening.  With the even milder winter weather this year, there should be all sorts of seasonal changes to report on.  We invite you to participate in the project.

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