Back on Feb. 2, General Beauregard Lee, Georgia’s prognosticating groundhog, predicted that we’d have an early spring this year. He also predicted the Falcons would win the Super Bowl.
Well, he got it half right. On the map above, the splotch of deep red tells you that for much of the country, including metro Atlanta, spring is indeed coming early, as in way, way early. As in more than three weeks early. Plants are blooming and leafing now that shouldn’t be doing so until mid-March, and the predicted high of 77 today — which would tie a record — will only accelerate that process. In the entire month of February, we’ve had exactly one night of below-freezing temperatures; the daily high this month has never been lower than 52; today will make seven days this month with highs above 70, with more likely.
It ain’t right, and you know it ain’t right. You feel it in your bones when you step outside, and the plants and critters know it far better than we do. Global climate models have long predicted that north Georgia would eventually have the heat-heavy climate of south Georgia and north Florida, driving out plants, animals and aquatic life long native to this region, and that transformation appears to be happening pretty quickly.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture updated its plant-hardiness maps, shifting the zones 50 to 100 miles northward in Georgia, meaning that Atlanta now has the climate that was once natural to Macon. However, that change reflected temperature data compiled only through 2005, and since then we’ve recorded nine of the 10 warmest years on the global record, including 2016, the warmest of them all.
And of course, it’s not just here. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, 5,294 daily high-temperature records were broken nationwide from Feb. 1 through Feb. 20. Only 85 record-lows were set. In Oklahoma, where daily highs this month ought to average 56 degrees, temperatures hit 99 degrees a couple of weeks ago, 43 degrees above normal.¹
In the Arctic and Antarctic, sea-ice levels have never been lower for this time of year. There is open water in areas where there should be solid ice for hundreds of square miles.
“We knew the Arctic would be the place we’d see the effects of climate change first, but what’s happened over the last couple of years has rattled the science community to its core,” says Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. “Things are happening so fast, we’re having trouble keeping up with it. We’ve never seen anything like this before.”
This is the fastest global temperature rise on the scientific record, reaching back tens of thousands of years through ice cores, tree rings and other indicators. It is the fastest warming by far, many times more rapid than anything we can find, and we’re watching it happen within the span of a human lifetime.
Furthermore, it has no plausible natural cause. There is only one suspect in this crime against nature and human posterity, and it is us.
Enjoy the nice day.
¹ Oklahoma is home to U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, the climate-change denier who held up a snowball on the floor of the Senate two years ago as evidence that scientists didn’t know what they were talking about. It is also home to Scott Pruitt, stalwart defender of the oil and gas industry, who was confirmed last week as administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. He is already moving to overturn the agency’s Clean Power Plan mandating lower carbon emissions from power generators.