On the race track of the year, spring is the bendy bit just before the long fast straight of summer. You have left the tedious long drag of the back straight of winter and you are looking forward to being able to blithely put the foot down before, eventually braking for the twists and turn of autumn.
Spring promises a lot, daffodils, apple and cherry blossom, even the first flush of grass that requires you to dig the mower out of the shed or garage. It carefully doesn’t promise sudden drops to what feels like arctic temperatures and gales that knock trees over! One term for spring weather is “changeable”. It doesn’t promise equinoctial gales, though apparently there is no real evidence for any such thing.
When we pass the magic date of September 1, it becomes officially spring, but no one told the weather. We try and persuade ourselves that the weather this week is better than the weather last week, and sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.
As spring wears on the signs of the approach of summer start to appear. The length of the day increases, and spring flowers start to blossom. I like to watch the deciduous trees come into leaf. First the buds swell, and then they burst into vivid green clusters of leaves, firstly quite pale as the leaf’s internal factories start manufacturing chlorophyll, and then darker green as the chlorophyll builds up in the leaves.
Some trees, like the cherry and apple trees seem to favour blossom over leaves at the start of the blossoming season. The little new leaves are there, on the apple trees, but they are overshadowed by the mass of blossom. Cherry trees appear to be all blossom. They are not the only ones – magnolias trees blossom before bearing leaves. The rather showy magnolia flowers appear before the leaves and quickly fall apart to carpet the ground with rapidly btowning petals.
Daffodils spring up, again promising better weather to come, and temperatures do start to slowly rise, but not without a few cooler spells as a nod back to winter. On the warmer days, I’ve seen Monarch butterflies tempted out of hibernation, but it’s a dangerous time for Monarchs. I seen those that failed because they are caught by a cold snap or because they have exhausted the reserve built up in the autumn, lying dead on the grass.
Other birds and animals become more active, like the Tuis brawling in the trees like a bunch of youths fuelled by testosterone. Moreporks become more active in the night, though their calls never really stop the whole year round. All birds ramp up their activities.
Spring is a time for lambs. Usually they will have been born for a month or more when spring starts, but late comers will still be found and the early comers are still quite small, leaving them very vulnerable to a late cold snap.
If I’ve made Spring appear bleak, it isn’t really. The lengthening of the days as well as the increases in temperature make the nicer days very pleasant, and one can slowly, layer by later, reduce the stifling amounts of winter clothing, with the prospect, round the corner, of the much lighter styles of summer.
With food being shipped around the world these days, the so-called summer vegetables can be purchased the year round, though in the depths of winter some vegetables attract premium prices, and out of season produce can be somewhat lacking in flavour. But soon enough more local vegetables come into season and prices fall and flavour improves.
I just noticed that the Vernal (spring) Equinox is nearly here. It will be on September 23 at 8:22pm NZST. This of course means that the day and the night will be approximately the same length, 12 hours, on that day, and from then on until the Autumnal Equinox in March days will be longer than the nights. Nights will shrink to 8 hours and 50 minutes at the Summer Solstice.
We move to daylight saving time (NZDT) at the end of the month. The clocks go forward so we lose an hour in bed! Never mind, it’s another sign that summer is on its way. The dog will enjoy getting his food an hour earlier too.
In the autumn we expected the temperatures to start to fall, but if they don’t for a day or two, and summer temperatures persist, we sometimes call this an “Indian Summer”. I don’t think that there is a similar term for a late cold period except perhaps a “cold snap”. Of course, there may well be an unseasonably warm period in early spring, which causes plants to bloom or animals to come out of hibernation early. Hopefully this would not be followed by deep cold, which would spell disaster for the animals and plants.
Weather forecasting is not capable of predicting the onset of cold or warm periods, but long term trends are able to be predicted, though only in terms of probability. One such prediction involves something called the El Niño Southern Oscillation, and the effect leads to changes to the patterns of weather over the country. The western areas tend to get more rainfall and the eastern areas tend get less, to the extent that drought conditions ensue. It is likely according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology that the current El Niño effect may continue into next year.
While this promises a golden summer in the east of the country and a wetter time in the west, this is not good news for dairy farmers, who have been struggling as a result of the global downturn in dairy prices. Farmers who plant crops will also be hit, as they will need to provide water from other sources, such as bores, irrigation schemes, or they may even have to truck water in. Lack of water will also affect power generation, and also tap water.
It seems strange writing that, since at the moment we are experiencing a period of wet weather over much of the country as a low pressure weather system has stalled over the country, becoming disconnected from the systems that move lows and highs across the country. So we are stuck with wet weather for the next few days.
Never mind. This may, hopefully, be winter’s last gasp. We are probably tracking through the first chicane of spring, and the rest of the season will see a general improvement until we turn the final corner and accelerate into summer.