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Seeing Wildflowers Blooming Early on Texas Roadsides? Blame La Niña & Global Warming

Wildflowers on the side of I-35 near downtown Austin on Thursday.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Wildflowers on the side of I-35 near downtown Austin on Thursday.

In much of Texas the sun is out, flowers are in bloom and you might be getting that springtime feeling. However, it’s still mid-February and it’s not your imagination: This has been another very warm winter.  

“It feels like this year [plants are blooming] are a week or two earlier than average,” says Andrea DeLong Amaya, director of horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Amaya says she's been getting calls about early blooming bluebonnets and trees that are starting to "leaf-out" a bit earlier than expected. That's because it has been a hotter than average winter.

Average temperatures across the state have been 2 to 4 degrees above normal since October. That’s warmer by more than a degree from previous records, according to state climatologist John Neilsen-Gammon. He says a La Niña weather pattern helped make this a warm winter, but adds that climate change also plays a role.

“Warmer temperatures make a difference in the natural environment, in terms of things like the changing of the seasons,” Neilsen-Gammon says. “As you notice things over the years, you start being able to perceive the effects of climate change, even if you don’t have a thermometer in your backyard that you’ve recording data [with] for many years.”

But, it’s affecting more than just flowers in Austin, says Danielle Sekula with farmers for the Texas AgriLife extension in the Lower Rio Grand Valley.  

She says usually farmers start planting cotton during the second week of March. This year, it's different.

“If anything, I probably already have quite a few guys that have started planting cotton just because it has been generally warm," she says.

In North Texas, wheat season has come early, too. Neilsen-Gammon says La Niña has given way to a neutral pattern for the summer. That usually means average temperatures, but, given the way things are going, it could be hotter.

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Mose Buchele is the Austin-based broadcast reporter for KUT's NPR partnership StateImpact Texas . He has been on staff at KUT 90.5 since 2009, covering local and state issues. Mose has also worked as a blogger on politics and an education reporter at his hometown paper in Western Massachusetts. He holds masters degrees in Latin American Studies and Journalism from UT Austin.