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Season creep

In phenology, season creep is observed changes in the timing of the seasons,[1][2] such as earlier indications of spring[3] widely observed in temperate areas across the Northern Hemisphere.[4][5] Phenological records analyzed by climate scientists have shown significant temporal trends in the observed time of seasonal events,[6][7] from the end of the 20th century and continuing into the 21st century.[5][8] In Europe, season creep has been associated with the arrival of spring moving up by approximately one week in a recent 30 year period.[9][10] Other studies have put the rate of season creep measured by plant phenology in the range of 2–3 days per decade advancement in spring, and 0.3–1.6 days per decade delay in autumn, over the past 30–80 years.[11]

Observable changes in nature related to season creep include birds laying their eggs earlier and buds appearing on some trees in late winter.[12] In addition to advanced budding, flowering trees have been blooming earlier, for example the culturally important cherry blossoms in Japan,[13][14] and Washington, D.C.[15][16][17] Northern hardwood forests have been trending toward leafing out sooner, and retaining their green canopies longer.[18] The agricultural growing season has also expanded by 10–20 days over the last few decades.[19]

The effects of season creep have been noted by non-scientists as well, including gardeners who have advanced their spring planting times,[20] and experimented with plantings of less hardy warmer climate varieties of non-native plants.[21] While summer growing seasons are expanding, winters are getting warmer and shorter, resulting in reduced winter ice cover on bodies of water,[22] earlier ice-out,[23] earlier melt water flows,[24] and earlier spring lake level peaks.[25] Some spring events, or "phenophases", have become intermittent or unobservable; for example, bodies of water that once froze regularly most winters now freeze less frequently,[8][26][27] and formerly migratory birds are now seen year-round in some areas.[28]

Relationship to global warming

The full impact of global warming is forecast to happen in the future, but climate scientists have cited season creep as an easily observable effect of climate change that has already occurred and continues to occur.[5][12][19][29] A large systematic phenological examination of data on 542 plant species in 21 European countries from 1971–2000 showed that 78% of all leafing, flowering, and fruiting records advanced while only 3% were significantly delayed, and these observations were consistent with measurements of observed warming.[10][30] Similar changes in the phenology of plants and animals are occurring across marine, freshwater, and terrestrial groups studied, and these changes are also consistent with the expected impact of global warming.[31]

While phenology fairly consistently points to an earlier spring across temperate regions of North America, a recent comprehensive study of the subarctic showed greater variability in the timing of green-up, with some areas advancing, and some having no discernible trend over a recent 44-year period.[32] Another 40 year phenological study in China found greater warming over that period in the more northerly sites studied, with sites experiencing cooling mostly in the south, indicating that the temperature variation with latitude is decreasing there.[33] This study also confirmed that season creep was correlated with warming, but the effect is non-linear—phenophases advanced less with greater warming, and retarded more with greater cooling.[33]

Shorter winters and longer growing seasons may appear to be a benefit to society from global warming, but the effects of advanced phenophases may also have serious consequences for human populations. Modeling of snowmelt predicted that warming of 3° to 5°C in the Western United States could cause snowmelt-driven runoff to occur as much as two months earlier, with profound effects on hydroelectricity, land use, agriculture, and water management.[34] Since 1980, earlier snowmelt and associated warming has also been associated with an increase in length and severity of the wildfire season there.[35]

Season creep may also have adverse affects on plant species as well. Earlier flowering could occur before pollinators such as honey bees become active, which would have negative consequences for pollination and reproduction.[17] Shorter and warmer winters may affect other environmental adaptations including cold hardening of trees, which could result in frost damage during more severe winters.[17]


Season creep was included in the 9th edition of the Clear the Air on March 21, 2006.[38] In the "Season Creep" report, Jonathan Banks, Policy Director for Clear the Air, introduced the term as follows:

Other uses

The term "season creep" has been applied in other contexts as well:


  1. ^ Gabay, Jonathan (2006). "23. So What's New?". Gabay's Copywriters' Compendium (Second Edition: The Definitive Professional Writers Guide ed.). Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann. p. 701.  
  2. ^ a b Maxwell, Kerry (2006-09-18). """Macmillan English Dictionary Word Of The Week Archive - "Christmas creep. New Words. Macmillan Publishers. Retrieved 2007-12-26. ...season creep, earlier spring weather and seasonal shifts caused by global climate change 
  3. ^ Maxwell, Kerry (December 2007). "A review of 2007 in twelve words". MED Magazine. Macmillan English Dictionaries. Retrieved 2007-12-23. It’s a classic case of the newly identified phenomenon of season creep, where Winters are warmer and Spring arrives earlier. 
  4. ^ Schwartz, M. D.; Ahas, R.; Aasa, A. (2006). "Onset of spring starting earlier across the Northern Hemisphere". Global Change Biology 12 (2): 343–351.  
  5. ^ a b c Cleland, E.E.; Chiariello, N.R.; Loarie, S.R.; Mooney, H.A.; Field, C.B. (2006). "Diverse responses of phenology to global changes in a grassland ecosystem". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103 (37): 13740–4.  
  6. ^ McFedries, Paul (August 2006). "Changing Climate, Changing Language".  
  7. ^ Sayre, Carolyn (2006-12-17). "The Year in Buzzwords 2006".  
  8. ^ a b Skinner, Victor (2007-02-17). "'"Area temperatures expected to rise back to 'normal.  
  9. ^ Stutz, Bruce (2006-04-21). "Suddenly spring". The Record (Bergen County, NJ). Retrieved 2007-12-23. In fact, due to global warming, spring across the Northern Hemisphere arrives a week or more earlier than it did 30 years ago, a phenomenon starting to be known as "season creep." 
  10. ^ a b "Climate changes shift springtime : A Europe-wide study has provided "conclusive proof" that the seasons are changing, with spring arriving earlier each year, researchers say.". Science/Nature.  
  11. ^ Sherry, R.A.; Zhou, X.; Gu, S.; Arnone Iii, J.A.; Schimel, D.S.; Verburg, P.S.; Wallace, L.L.; Luo, Y. (2007). "Divergence of reproductive phenology under climate warming". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104 (1): 198–202.  
  12. ^ a b "Man bags at ten paces? Just look it up". News. 2007-06-04. Retrieved 2007-12-23. While the full impact of global warming is still to be experienced, many scientists are warning that it is responsible for earlier springs leading to longer summers. 
  13. ^ Miller-rushing, A.J.; Katsuki, T.; Primack, R.B.; Ishii, Y.; Lee, S.D.; Higuchi, H. (2007). "Impact of global warming on a group of related species and their hybrids: cherry tree (Rosaceae) flowering at Mt. Takao, Japan". American Journal of Botany 94 (9): 1470–8.  
  14. ^ Cleland, E.E.; Chuine, I.; Menzel, A.; Mooney, H.A.; Schwartz, M.D. (2007). "Shifting plant phenology in response to global change". Trends in Ecology & Evolution 22 (7): 357–365.  
  15. ^ Abu-asab, M.S.; Peterson, P.M.; Shetler, S.G.; Orli, S.S. (2001). "Earlier plant flowering in spring as a response to global warming in the Washington, DC, area". Biodiversity and Conservation 10 (4): 597–612.  
  16. ^ Peterson, Paul M.; Stanwyn G. Shetler; Mones S. Abu-Asab; Sylvia S. Orli (2005). "Chapter 8 Global Climate Change: The Spring Temperate Flora". In Krupnick, Gary A; W. John Kress. Plant conservation: a natural history approach. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 192.  
  17. ^ a b c Chung, Uran; Mack, Liz; Yun, Jin I.; Kim, Soo-Hyung (2011). Harvey, Jeffrey A, ed. "Predicting the Timing of Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC and Mid-Atlantic States in Response to Climate Change".  
  18. ^ Richardson, A.D.; Bailey, A.S.; Denny, E.G.; Martin, C.W.; O'Keefe, J. (2006). "Phenology of a northern hardwood forest canopy". Global Change Biology 12 (7): 1174–1188.  
  19. ^ a b Linderholm, H.W. (2006). "Growing season changes in the last century". Agricultural and forest meteorology 137 (1–2): 1–14.  
  20. ^ Smith, Virginia A. (2007-04-07). "Out on a limb: Gardeners excited by the early warmth — call it "season creep" - are experimenting with earlier planting and new varieties.".  
  21. ^ Williams, Brad (2007-04-08). "Dogwoods to frogs, tulips to snow, Knox shows signs of warming".  
  22. ^ Magnuson, J.J.; Robertson, D.M.; Benson, B.J.; Wynne, R.H.; Livingstone, D.M.; Arai, T.; Assel, R.A.; Barry, R.G.; Card, V.; Kuusisto, E.; Others, (2000). "Historical Trends in Lake and River Ice Cover in the Northern Hemisphere". Science 289 (5485): 1743–1746.  
  23. ^ Hodgkins, G.A.; Ii, I.C.J.; Huntington, T.G. (2002). "Historical Changes In Lake Ice-out Dates As Indicators Of Climate Change In New England, 1850--2000".  
  24. ^ Dybas, Cheryl Lyn (2006-03-20). "Early Spring Disturbing Life on Northern Rivers".  
  25. ^ "Early risers". New Scientist 167 (2241): 21. 2000-06-03. Retrieved 2007-12-27. North America's Great Lakes are reaching their spring high-water levels a month earlier than they did when records began in 1860. Levels normally rise in the spring as snow melts, but regional temperatures have been rising for the past 90 years, and winter ice cover has been shrinking. 
  26. ^ Wake, Cameron (2006-12-04). "Climate Change in the Northeast: Past, Present, and Future" (pdf). Climate Change in the Hudson Valley, NY. Retrieved 2007-12-27. A particularly interesting lake ice record comes from Lake Champlain where they record the ice in date.... Of more significance is the fact that the ice has not frozen in the area of observation in 16 of the past 30 years. 
  27. ^ "Why Less Winter Ice is the Pitts for State".  
  28. ^ "Report warns of global warming increase". Portsmouth Herald. Retrieved 2007-12-27. ...Jan Pendlebury, executive director of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Environmental Trust, said... 'Global warming is forcing changes to the quintessential indicator that spring has arrived: return of the robin. Recent years have documentation that rather than flying south with other feathered friends, many populations of robins are becoming year-round residents, not only in the southern tier of the state, but as far north as Jackson.' 
  29. ^ A Science of Signs of Spring; Naturalists Study What Warming Temperatures Would Mean for Plants, Animals March 17, 2013 Wall Street Journal
  30. ^ Menzel, A.; Sparks, T.H.; Estrella, N.; Koch, E.; Aasa, A.; Ahas, R.; Alm-kübler, K.; Bissolli, P.; Braslavská, O.; Briede, A.; Others, (2006). "European phenological response to climate change matches the warming pattern". Global Change Biology 12 (10): 1969–1976.  
  31. ^ Parmesan, C. (2006). "Ecological and evolutionary responses to recent climate change". Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst 37 (1): 637–69.  
  32. ^ Delbart, N.; Picard, G.; Kergoat, L.; Letoan, T.; Quegan, S.; Dye, D.; Woodward, I.; Fedotova, V. (2007). "Spring phenology in taiga and tundra". Retrieved 2007-12-29. The model was applied over the whole low arctic region from 1958 to 2002. In North East Canada and North East Russia, no remarkable trend is found in the timing of green- up, whereas a ten day advance is recorded in the last few decades in North Alaska and in North West Siberia. 
  33. ^ a b Jingyun, Z.; Quansheng, G.; Zhixin, H. (2002). "Impacts of climate warming on plants phenophases in China for the last 40 years". Chinese Science Bulletin 47 (21): 1826–1831.  
  34. ^ Rauscher, S. A.; Pal, J. S.; Diffenbaugh, N. S.; Benedetti, M. M. (2008). "Future changes in snowmelt-driven runoff timing over the western US". Geophysical Research Letters 35 (16): L16703.  
  35. ^ Westerling, L.; Hidalgo, G.; Cayan, R.; Swetnam, W. (Aug 2006). "Warming and earlier spring increase western U.S. Forest wildfire activity". Science 313 (5789): 940–943.  
  36. ^ Topping , Alexandra (2007-06-04). Hoodies', 'size zero', 'man flu', make it into the dictionary"'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-12-23. A preoccupation with environmental issues, a favourite topic of [British Conservative Party leader David] Cameron's, is also reflected in new phrases such as "carbon footprint", "carbon offsetting" and "season creep", used to describe the changing length of the seasons thought to be caused by climate change. 
  37. ^ Season creep', 'BBQ stopper' appear in dictionary pages"'".  
  38. ^ a b "Season creep". Word Spy. Retrieved 2007-12-23. Earliest Citation:… Jonathan Banks, 'Season Creep: How Global Warming Is Already Affecting The World Around Us,' National Environment Trust, March 21, 2006 
  39. ^ "What Has Longer Season Brought To Baseball Besides Snow Warnings?".  
  40. ^ "Virginian-Pilot Archives".  
  41. ^ Sellnow, Greg (2007-04-07). ", Greg Sellnow column: I'm just sayin'.".  
  42. ^ Siewers, Alf (1987-11-25). "He's well-suited to enjoying life of Santa".  
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