A couple weeks ago my high school history teacher emailed and asked if I’d been watching the searing temperatures along the Midwest, Northern Plains and into the Northeast. Not only had I been watching them, but also I made a rather eerie prediction about our trees and critters, which unfortunately in part seems to have been correct.
Plants in the Northern hemisphere require an accumulated amount of heat in their protective buds in order to commence growth in the springtime. In plant physiology parlance we call this a ‘heat sum’ and the exact heat sum is well-documented for every species and in particular our food crops like apples, peaches, apricots, cherries, pears, cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, etc.
Temperatures in mid-March (2012) across the Midwest up into the Northern Plains and across into the Northeast were record-breaking, eclipsing anything we have seen since the inception of continuous record keeping in the late 1880s.
Once plants receive their required heat sum, they break dormancy begin to flower and require (mostly) bees to assist them with pollination. In New Hampshire plants have commenced this process as much as five weeks ahead of time and in Indiana, four weeks earlier than normal. This precocious spring growth has exposed plants to late spring frosts, which have recently smothered Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana and many other states.
Freezing temperatures are lethal to new growth and especially delicate flowers. These exposed parts of new spring plant growth have not evolved to contend with freezing temperatures.
Moreover, in February and early March (2012) more than three quarters of all the honeybees in the U.S. were congregated in central California for the almond pollination; the largest pollination effort on the globe.
Spring temperatures occurred so early this year that many of the northeast beekeepers were not even able to get their hives home from California to pollinate the apples, apricots, peaches and blueberries.
Over the next week the extent of the hard frosts and ruined crops will be determined. New York’s fruit trees and grapes are worth alone $700 million.
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