It may be early January, but forsythia bushes are starting to bloom near the intersection of Stone Drive and Fairmont Avenue. Photo by David Grace.
Among the flower beds and in the forests, little buds are appearing on plants and tree limbs. The problem is we're only nine days into 2007.
The warm temperatures are causing blooms to appear long before their normal spring blooming time.
"I've especially noticed it over the past two years. It's like the seasons are trying to come early," said Sandy Toler, greenhouse manager at Evergreen of Kingsport.
The business has taken preventive measures to protect buds on plants at the store that are reacting to above-normal temperatures in January.
"Our bulbs and (other plants) are all trying to come up right now, and if we see a cold snap come through, you won't see these blooms for the rest of the year because it will cause them to bottom out," Toler said.
Despite two record-low temperatures recorded in December, last month was the 15th warmest December on record, according to the National Weather Service. That trend has continued into January.
Phil Shelton, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Virginia's College at Wise and an avid weather watcher, said that 30 years ago folks were worrying about the coming of another ice age.
"Weather is the best example of chaos, particularly here in the Southeastern U.S. We are always in a contention zone between continental air that comes in from the north and moist, warm air that comes up from the south, the Caribbean and the Gulf. This is a very unusual pattern," Shelton said.
"It would be risky to say this is part of global warming. It probably is, and long-term trends are going to be warmer. However, when something like this goes on, everyone wants to point to (global warming). We just have to wait and see what the long-term climate change is.
"Since the last ice age, which peaked about 12,000 to 15,000 years ago, we had a warming trend that peaked about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago," he said.
"It cooled down after that, but superimposed on that pattern are things like an unusually warm period that hit around the 1400s and then a little ice age hit around the 1700s. Not a lot of change took place in the 1990s, so predicting what will happen in the 21st century with the weather is very risky. It's all connected."
Back at Evergreen, Toler said the short-term effect of premature blooms is the possible damage to existing plants.
"Putting a trash bag or some sort of cover on plants is fine, but if you don't take them off once the sun comes out, all you're doing is baking them," she said.
"You would want to use a bark or pine mulch, and use enough to cover what has already come up, and that should hopefully protect things.
"Cutting (the bloom or growth) right now is not an option because that will kill whatever is there. Mulching a bit heavier than normal will help."