It is the first day of winter. Still hotter.

About a month ago, I saw my neighbor Tim Hamilton working after dark in his yard.

He wears a headlamp to see, and the sight of a man picking leaves under a strong spotlight is amazing. His trees fell off their cover two weeks ahead of schedule.

The leaves in this area may vary in the intensity of autumn colors, but they fall like clockwork, said Tim, who keeps an accurate garden journal. This year they fall exactly two weeks earlier than usual. This summer’s drought may have contributed, but our summer drought has been increasing every year, with few exceptions.

Sometimes the signs of a warming planet are clear: longer summer droughts make leaves fall earlier; warmer air makes storms bigger and wetter; Rising sea levels mean that solar floods will occur more frequently and for longer periods. Summer is hotter, and the boundaries between seasons disappear.

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In winter, which arrived with the solstice at 10:27 pm Thursday, it may be harder to find signs of a warmer world because, well, it’s cold.

The world is warming, said Doug Myers, chief scientist of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s their summer when it’s our winter. They are experiencing the effects of warming today. They are harder to find here because we are in our winter season.

It may be more difficult to explain this if you are writing about the weather will it snow today? instead of climate: Will we all die from deadly storms and crop failures?

Take all the seasonal forecasts released around Thanksgiving, for example. They said this: When it’s cold, it snows. When it’s hot, it rains.

Well, duh.

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However, it is increasingly climate change that determines the relatively basic weather equation in the mid-Atlantic.

Next week, the forecast calls for days that will be about 10 degrees above the historical norm for this time of year. That could be connected to polar ice caps and glaciers melting, reducing their cooling effect. Probably not.

But if the Southern Hemisphere experiences extreme heat the journal Nature predicts that the entire global South will suffer the same record heat we have in 2023 it will make our winters suddenly colder.

You may remember when we have a really bad cold, meteorologists start talking about the polar vortex, Myers said. The polar vortex is the winds around the poles that keep the coldest temperatures around the poles.

When the heat in the South becomes intense, it reaches the upper atmosphere in the so-called Rossby waves, which cause a chain reaction of energy that leads to the destruction of the polar vortex opening the door for a drop in temperature in Maryland.

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The main reason for the polar vortex tipping in 2014-2015 was the extremely hot air in Indonesia, said Myers.

Just as an Atlantic hurricane is a creation of energy produced by the heating of water, a deep freeze can be born by heating the air on the other side of the planet.

It points the polar vortex off its rocker, Myers said.

So, if it’s really cold here while the South warms up with snow instead of rain, yes, that’s climate change.

The last significant year of ice breakup was in 2018, the last time we cleared Annapolis Harbor, Gregg Bortz, a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources, wrote in an email. And before 2015. Every year, freezing is caused by the polar vortex.

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Icing in Chesapeake Bay is not unheard of, although the last recorded full freeze occurred in the winter of 1977. Maryland uses a small fleet of buoy tenders, vessels named JC Widener, Eddie Somers and AV Sandusky, including the utility boat HJ Elser. as icebreakers when needed.

These boats are prepared every year to respond to icebreaking if necessary, especially since for some of our ports (most importantly Smith Island) our boats are literally lifelines that allow food and fuel to get through when the port out of reach, Bortz wrote.

If climate change can bring a deep cold in January, this is also the reason that you can eat different types of tomatoes next summer.

In November, the US Department of Agriculture updated the hardiness zones to reflect warmer winters within 5 to 7 miles of the Chesapeake Bay. Zones are a guide to what to plant and when.

We are no longer a Zone 7B in this area, but a Zone 8 due to the contiguous USA being 2.5 degrees warmer than 11 years ago, my neighbor Tim said. For casual suburban gardeners, this isn’t a big deal, but for farmers, it is.

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Winter is when farmers and gardeners start leafing through seed catalogs, looking for plants that can go into the ground earlier than usual and that will tolerate warmer days. there are few clouds.

Farmers are also affected by climate change in another way. The wild swings between deep freezes and warmer-than-normal temperatures can confuse plants into blooming at the wrong time.

It’s always been common, but it seems to be longer in warm weather, said Dave Myers, a longtime farmer who now advises farmers for the Maryland Cooperative Extension Agency. For growers of fruit and perennial crops, that’s a bit of a hassle. This tends to lead to early bud break.

Farmers, however, are more concerned with weather than climate.

All of these are related, Myers said, unrelated to the bay scientist. I think farmers are not too pessimistic about the climate, they are quite resilient. They are looking for next year. Next year will be a good year.

They pay attention to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, where researchers have been studying the warming globe for 37 years in the longest climate research project in the world.

They have already documented some effects.

An experiment actually simulates a warmer world in this tidal salt marsh, said J. Patrick Megonigal, senior scientist and associate director of research at the center. And there, heating the swamp at three different temperatures above the ambient that represent different futures.

The plants will stay greener longer until autumn in the warmer future and emerge from the ground earlier in the spring. A dusting of snow disappears quickly instead of lingering as a sure sign of early winter.

It’s very visual, said Megonigal.

The last big freeze around Annapolis was in 2018 when the polar vortex dissipated. It covered Fishing Creek with thick ice. (Rick Hutzell)

The invisible is the main goal of the experiments, a kind of doom loop involving the microorganisms in the system. Those who make methane gas are more active in a warmer world, releasing it at a faster and faster rate. They add to the greenhouse gases that are already driving climate change.

What this means is a greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, which causes other greenhouse gases to be emitted faster and their concentrations to rise faster. This is not positive feedback, says Megonigal. That’s a dramatic result.

There are other signs if you look some are bad, but not all.

Tundra swans and snow geese that fly south to winter in the Chesapeake may inhabit New Jersey marshes.

Less snow and ice means less salt spread on Chesapeake roads and washes.

The shad run, the migration of a once abundant fish in the bay, has changed enough that it will soon no longer occur when the shadbush blooms along the shoreline.

That old question about rain vs. snow now has to include this: Warm air holds more water that doubles for every 20 degrees Fahrenheit rise so when it rains in the winter, it pours.

And rising tides driven by climate change may one day change the science it studies in the Smithsonian’s marshes outside Annapolis.

The marsh only keeps itself a marsh instead of open water by gaining height at the same rate as the sea level rises. And if it starts to sink for some reason, that will cause the wetland to be destroyed, Megonigal said.

Rick Hutzell is the Annapolis columnist for The Baltimore Banner. He writes about what’s happening now, how we got here and who we are next. The former editor of the Capital Gazette, he led the newspaper to a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the 2018 mass shooting in its newsroom.

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