Despite the ominous forecasts for NEXT winter, we’re having a mild winter in the US this year. We assume that a COLD winter is what kills plants and animals, but it turns out that a warmer-than-usual winter season can harm them just as much.

Snowfall in the nation’s snowiest large city (Syracuse, N.Y.) has added up to less than half of its average mid-January total and temperatures in the usually wintry Northeast are expected to rise into the 50s again before January is over. As portions of the United States experience an unusually mild start to the winter, with higher-than-normal temperatures and less-than-average snowfall, questions are raised about the weather’s effect on the environment. Unusual warmth can be hard on insects, amphibians and plants.

Some aquatic insects, such as mayflies, might emerge earlier this spring. The warmer-than-usual winter could result in injury to plants, especially trees, that have not hardened (become freeze tolerant) because of the lack of persistently cold temperatures. If warm temperatures continue throughout the winter, amphibians and reptiles: will emerge earlier and have a longer breeding season, which benefits them in northern climates with short growing seasons. Plants that are native to warmer climates could be affected without snow cover.

We’re having a mild winter in most of the US this year, but we’ve had harsh winters recently. Scientists now think that cold winters are caused by WARM autumns, because increasing temperatures and melting ice in the Arctic regions create more snowfall. So don’t get complacent when it’s mild in September–watch out for December!

The trend of increasingly cold winters over the past two decades could be explained by warmer temperatures in the autumn having a marked effect on normal weather patterns, causing temperatures to plummet in the following winter. This was true of the extremely harsh Florida winter of 2010 which ended up killing a host of tropical creatures, as well as the chaos-causing snow that fell on the UK in December 2010.

It’s not going to be the weather or 2012 that does us in, it’s going to be reader and listener indifference and then–all of a sudden–you’ll fire up your computer and this valiant little website will be gone. Don’t let that happen: Do YOUR part. Subscribe today!

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