Phenology And Climate Change

At the VCR LTER

Not far from the current site of Virginia Coast Reserve facility at Oyster, Virginia is the townette of Birdsnest. This should not be confused with Bird-in-the-hand. That is a nice little town in Amish Pennsylvania.

Birdsnest, Virginia was first a Smithsonian, then a Signal Service and then a Weather Bureau installation. Mr. C. R. Moore began keeping climate and phenological records at Birdsnest in 1868. By 1897 (Monthly Weather Review May 1897) he had concluded that the climate of the Eastern Shore of Virginia had changed. Phenological data convinced him it was so.

Moore arrived at Birdsnest in 1867. He was told that when the older men of the area were boys you had to have your corn planted by April Court (1st Monday) or you would be behind. In the 1890s May court was the right time! The same old men said that in the first decade of the 1800s you could get a peach crop every year! In 1879 Moore set out an orchard of 2000 trees including 200 peach trees. In only one year in five could he get any peaches. Warm spells in February and March would bring out the buds and blooms and April frosts would kill them.

Corn and peaches convinced Mr. Moore that the climate had changed. Today the average date of the last killing frost of spring (28 F) is March 30. There is a 1 chance in 5 as late as the 11th of April. The modern period thus would appear to be much more like the early 1800s than the late 1800s. While we get three crops a year on Virginia's Eastern Shore, orchard crops are not the choice of farmers. Flowering in February and March is not the orchardist delight!

One would rather see a wolf in February
Than a peasant in his shirtsleeves.
A February spring is not worth a pin.
March flowers make no summer bowers.
A year of snow, Fruit will grow.
Year of snow, Year of Plenty.
January blossoms fill no man's cellar.

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