Too Warm, Too Soon

Brown Trout by Jack Ballard

By now the record-breaking warm temperatures of March is old news. By March 22 over 6,000 record highs were toppled across the United States for the month, 710 falling in a single day. Here in the northern Rockies we didn’t see quite as dramatically hot temperatures as in the Midwest or the East. Nonetheless, daytime high temperatures ranged from 10 to 20 degrees higher than average for March.

Golfers, anglers, joggers and tennis players are loving it. Evidently migrating birds are too. By early March I’d spotted my first bluebirds and meadowlarks. Red-winged Blackbirds came even earlier.

Red-winged Blackbird, adult male© Greg Lasley/VIREO

Those birds, like humans, may be living with a false sense of security. A quick look at record low temperatures for my home town of Red Lodge, Montana, reveals it can still plunge below zero (F) well into April. Such a devastating cold snap could have dire consequences for small songbirds and the budding trees whose sap is already running freely.

But thus far, the most troubling aspect of the unseasonably warm temperatures involves the snowpack. With nights barely reaching freezing or not creating frost at all, the snow banks around town have all but disappeared. The mountain snowpack is diminishing as well, something that generally doesn’t occur for another couple of months. If the snow goes early, mid to late summer may see little water in the creeks and rivers. The rainbow, brook, brown and cutthroat trout of Montana’s rivers are particularly vulnerable to low water. Less water in the streambed means what’s left is warmer. In years of low flow, the water can become so warm as to become lethal to trout.

In reality, it’s too early to worry. April and May can bring substantial snow to the high country. Everything might turn out fine, but I’m guessing the trout have their fins crossed.

Jack Ballard

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Too Warm, Too Soon”

  1. Mary Harris says:

    I’m concerned about my hummingbirds. They usually come with the apple blossoms. With our unseasonably warm spring, the apple blossoms have come and gone, and I still don’t have a hummingbird. However, they are not LATE. They generally come between April 1 and April 7, although I have seen one as early as March 28. I am just concerned that their failure to come early to be consistent with the rest of our unnaturally warm spring is a portent that something’s wrong. If they need those apple blossoms when they do arrive, they are going to be disappointed.

  2. Jack says:

    I hope your hummingbirds show up and they find plenty to eat. And let’s hope those early apple blossoms yield a bumper crop!