Cornell’s Springcasting Predicts Arrival of Spring

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After over a century of predicting when winter will finally give way to spring in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, it might finally be time for Punxsutawney Phil to retire. For his long-waited retire, Phil can send his thank you cards to Cornell’s Emergent Climate Risk Lab, and their new web tool, Springcasting.

Springcasting is designed to predict the arrival of spring an entire season before it occurs. According to Toby Ault, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Cornell, the goal of Cornell’s Emergent Climate Risk Lab was to, “look beyond the typical 5- to 10-day barrier of traditional meteorological forecasts by focusing on the timing of spring indicators, not just warm or cold temperatures”.

The rapidly changing climates of the country was one of the driving forces behind this project. Researchers at Cornell understood that recent climate changes heavily affect not only our agriculture, but also the entire ecosystem that keeps farms across the country operating and producing, such as orchards, insects, and pollinators. By using Springcasting, scientists and farmers alike can get a jump on what to expect from the upcoming season, and how to prepare for it.

This method of predicting spring is theoretically able to work because instead of trying to predict when the weather will get warmer, Springcasting looks for indicators of the specific season itself, such as lilacs putting leaves on, or honeysuckle beginning to grow. While the weather may not be warm for these events, these are signs from nature that spring is on its way. This is also particularly useful when climate change is considered, since plants such as lilac and honeysuckle are a bit more in tune and adapted to the atmosphere and climate changes than we are; we expect spring to begin in March or April, but a plant blooms when nature tells them to, not when a calendar says it’s time. Using spring plants as a guide helps Springcasting to predict when spring is actually arriving instead of when we believe it should be arriving.

The new tool’s map of the continental U.S. shows in color where spring will be early, late or right on time, with red hues indicating an early spring, and blue hues indicating a late spring. While this first map indicates possible anomalies in the onset of spring, a second map predicts the expected day of the year that spring will arrive in a given region. In 2018, the maps will be updated twice a month on the Springcasting site.

The main challenges of this project stem from a lack of the researchers presence in the field themselves, since they cannot be everywhere in country to check on their predictions. This is why Toby Ault is collecting feedback from people out in the field and on the farms, using as his mode of communication. Hearing from real people about the weather in their area and reporting any signs of spring will help the researchers at Cornell’s Emergent Climate Risk Lab make sure their new tool is working as expected, and to make adjustments if it is not.

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