Spring is still some weeks away in most parts of the country, but it's time to start dreaming—and planning—for Mother Nature's big thaw. Here's an update on several of spring's big seasonal events.
Desert Wildflowers (Death Valley National Park, California)
Given the harsh desert environment, winter rainfall totals are a fairly predictable indicator of when the colorful desert wildflowers will bloom in the Mojave's Death Valley National Park (and elsewhere in North America's other three major deserts, the Sonoran, Great Basin, and Chihuahuan deserts). And unlike this winter's rain-drenched sections of the California coastline, Death Valley has only recorded a half-inch of rain since July 2010. Consequently, park officials are not anticipating a bumper crop of wildflower blooms this year. "We are seeing sprouts of wildflowers in the southern part of the park due to rain in October," the NPS website reports, adding that plants on the lower-elevation hillsides and alluvial fans around Jubilee Pass may come into bloom by late February. Look for an update from the NPS in early February. Low rainfall throughout the year and cooler winter temps suggest that peak bloom should occur in mid- to late March.
Cherry Blossom Festival (Tidal Basin, Washington, D.C.)
The annual parlor game of guessing exactly when the Tidal Basin's 3,000 Yoshino cherry blossom trees will flower usually gets underway in mid-February. The National Park Service isn't making any predictions this early in the season, but we do know this much: Over the past two decades, according to the NPS, the earliest dates that the first green buds appeared on the trees was in 1998 (February 13) and 2008 (February 19). Weather patterns for both years trended slightly warmer when compared with historical averages; to date, temperatures for January 2011 have remained quite mild though not unusually so. The earliest that peak blooms were recorded was on March 17, 2000. Obviously, a lot can change, plus the cycle from bud to bloom is never consistent from year to year, but our meteorological crystal ball predicts peak blooms will arrive by early April. The official National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled for March 26 to April 10, 2011.
Monarch Butterfly Migration (Mexico to Southern and Midwest United States)
Tens of millions of these beautiful tiger-patterned insects have only just made it to their winter nesting grounds in the mountains of south-central Mexico, but it's not long before they'll start the race north to lay their eggs in states across the southern United States. Early March will see the butterflies back on the march, so the speak, fluttering over Mexico's Caribbean-side states before returning home to breed in states including New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, and as far east as North Carolina and Virginia. Stay tuned to the excellent Journey North Monarch Butterfly Migration Tracking Project for reports about the butterflies' departure from Mexico and subsequent sightings in your neighborhood.
Canadian Tulip Festival (Ottawa, Canada)
Daffodils and tulips are two sure signs that spring’s really gotten its grip, nowhere more so than in the Canadian capital city, Ottawa. Admittedly, those Canucks have to wait a whole lot longer to defrost than us lightweights down south across the border, but when spring hits, they sure know how to put on a show. Ottawa’s Canadian Tulip Festival is the world’s largest such tulip festival, showcasing over three million of these seasonal favorites around the capital city. The festival brings in hundreds of thousands of visitors from Canada, the United States, and around the world. Events include concerts, children’s activities, and an International Pavilion exhibiting Canada’s cultural diversity. Dates for this year's festival are May 6-23. If May’s too long to wait for a taste of spring in Canada (and many New England states), then pay of visit to one of the region’s famous sugar bushes for a chance to view the sap being collected and made into maple syrup. These sugar-bush farms typically open in mid- to late February and run until mid-April, depending on seasonal temperatures and snowfall.
Of course, Mother Nature will be throwing off her winter shackles in all sorts of other ways across the continent, from winter snowmelt bestowing riotous whitewater to streams of songbirds winging their way up the Atlantic Flyway. Tell us in the comments section about your favorite spring milestones!
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