Editor’s note: This commentary is by Ron Krupp, who is the author of “The Woodchuck Returns to Gardening.” A version of this commentary originally aired on Vermont Public Radio.Ever since Tropical Storm Irene flooded the slopes and valleys of Vermont in late August of 2011, we’ve been much more aware of how climate change is affecting our lives.
Since then, we’ve learned that the storm was made worse by the warming of the Atlantic Ocean – which most experts agree was caused by climate change. But if you’ll excuse the pun – and I don’t mean to suggest that climate change is at all funny — Irene was just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s projected that by 2050 the projected mean annual temperature increases for Vermont will be 3 degrees Fahrenheit and by late century 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
By 2080, Vermont’s summer climate will feel similar to the climate of northwest Georgia from 1961 to 1990.
Precipitation by the end of the century is projected to increase by 15 percent in winter, 10 percent in spring and 5 percent in summer.
We’re already experiencing snowstorms with a Mid-Atlantic feel that do more damage that most nor’easters.
Evaporation escalates with temperature; therefore in regions where precipitation decreases, an increase in drought frequency is likely. In New England, a combination of earlier snowmelt, more runoff from heavier summer rainfall, and faster rates of evaporation, are expected to increase the frequency of summer droughts.
And while all that may still be decades away, we’re already experiencing snowstorms with a Mid-Atlantic feel that do more damage that most nor’easters. Many barn and shed roofs can’t take the load from warmer, heavier snows — and come down.
USDA winter hardiness zones are also affected. They’re determined by average minimum temperatures and are used to tell what plants, shrubs and trees can survive a typical winter. As the climate has warmed in winter across the whole of the Northeast, between 1990 and 2006, Vermont has gone from mostly Zone 4 to mostly Zone 5. I’ve noticed these changes myself at the Tommy Thompson Community Garden in the Intervale in Burlington. I can now grow sweet potatoes with ease.
The Adirondacks is one of the best protected and one of the most intact temperate-forest landscapes in the world. Jerry Jenkins, an ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society in the Adirondacks, has been tracking the effects of global warming in the park for decades. Changes might include die-offs of trees such as the red oak, white pine and sugar maple. The area’s wildlife species, including the moose, spruce grouse, and common loon, may migrate north to cooler climes.
Jenkins said, “We may be the last generation to see the big bogs and boreal creatures as well as a decline and eventual loss of the spruce-fir forests and alpine tundra in the Adirondacks.”
He went on to say, “Hard frosts that a generation ago came in mid-September now arrive in October. Ornithologists have recorded recent declines in northern bird species like the black-backed woodpecker, olive-sided flycatcher and rusty blackbird.”
Jenkins spends many days camping alone. He said, “I’ve never had an intense experience in a motel.”
He speaks of the Adirondack landscape with a certain wistfulness, waxing lyrical about the conifers and sedges, long vistas and light on water, peacefulness and oldness. That may end sooner than we think.