USA NPN National Phenology Network

Taking the Pulse of Our Planet

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The USA-NPN, phenology, and our partners are often in the news. Follow some recent stories below.

Image credit:
Sara N. Schaffer


  • It's the new (climate) normal!
    Sunday, March 20, 2022

    Climate normals are 30-year averages of weather data that provide a baseline to compare current weather. NOAA recently updated this average to the most recent 3 decades - what does this mean for our maps of spring?

    Normals are long-term average climate products - they exist so we can compare today's weather to the long term average - for example, to find out if this January is colder than "normal." Since temperatures have been rising decade by decade, the period of comparison matters in showing the difference between current conditions and “normal.”

    Each time we enter a new decade, NOAA updates the suite of standard temperature products to the most recent 3-decade period. They recently moved from the 1981-2010 climate normal period to the 1991-2020 period. Even though ⅔ of the years are the same for the new period, the period of 2010-20 can make a large difference. Climate Central took NOAA's products a step further, showing how seasonal average temperatures have shifted from the prior to the current climate normal period.

    We just updated our spring leaf out and bloom maps to use the new 1991-2020 normal period. In most of the country, spring is coming earlier in the most recent 3 decades compared to prior normal period.

    Comparison of spring leaf out with old vs new climate normals

    How does this relate to climate change? Climate change is best detected through long term (50+ year) trends in temperatures - as done here for the National Climate Assessment. However, looking at the difference between the start of spring in the two normal periods, we see what we'd expect with climate change: Spring is coming earlier in much of the country.

    Keep following our Status of Spring page to see how spring leaf out and bloom unfold across the country. 

  • 2022 Heat Accumulation vs. Rodent Prognostication
    Wednesday, February 2, 2022

    Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter! However, our maps of heat accumulation provide a more scientific look at how much heat has accumulated so far this year, and what's next. Heat accumulation is ahead of schedule in the Southeast and parts of the West and Great Plains, behind schedule in other parts of the West and southern Midwest states. NOAA's Climate Prediction Center predicts warmer than average temperatures and lower than average precipitation in the Southwest and Southeast, below average temperatures and above average precipitation in the Northwest, and above average temperatures and above average precipitation in the Midwest and Northeast. 

    Groundhog Day 2022 Seasonal Story

    And Nature's Notebook observers are already seeing early spring activity including breaking leaf buds, initial growth, and open flowers on several species across the country. Explore which species are showing activity in the dashboard below.

  • In Memory of Marjorie Helen Schwartz (1928-2021), faithful phenology observer
    Thursday, January 13, 2022

    The USA National Phenology Network laments the passing of Marjorie Helen Schwartz, a long-time lilac observer and mother of USA-NPN co-founder Mark D. Schwartz. Marjorie died peacefully on December 21, 2021 at the age of 93. She lived all her life in the Thumb of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, an area shaped like that digit on a mitten which juts into Lake Huron. After she married Mark’s father, Donald J. Schwartz, in 1954, they lived in Gagetown, a small village in Tuscola County, where sugar refining, ethanol processing, and growing grains and beans dominate the local economy. The pride of Gagetown is the Thumb Octagon Barn and Agricultural Museum which celebrates rural America’s heritage and showcases local life in the early 1900s. Marjorie and Donald were proud and long-time supporters of the Thumb Octagon Barn and Museum. Marjorie retired in the early 1990’s as the secretary of Gagetown Elementary School. In retirement, she enjoyed researching her family’s history, tending her flower and vegetable gardens, and contributing local weather and phenological observations.

    Marjorie Schwartz, with her son Mark

    Mark was Marjorie’s only child and she was devoted to him and enjoyed and shared his interests. As a master’s student at Michigan State in the early 1980s, Mark worked for Fred Nurnberger, Ph.D., the State Climatologist. Starting in 1980, Nurnberger provided volunteer observers across the Thumb region with standard cotton-region weather shelters, featuring standard NWS liquid-in-glass thermometers as well as standard NWS metal rain gauges.  One of these weather stations was at Mark’s family home at 6421 Lincoln St., Gagetown, MI, where his mother faithfully took daily weather observations regularly until about 5 years ago, when her health began to decline.

    For his Ph.D. work at the University of Kansas, completed in 1985, Mark used historic lilac and honeysuckle phenological observations from pre-existing networks to model and track the advance of phenological spring across Eastern and Central North America. When Mark moved to Wisconsin in 1992, he began purchasing cloned lilacs and honeysuckles and outfitted local weather stations as phenological observation sites, including Marjorie’s home in Gagetown.  Marjorie was a faithful cloned lilac and honeysuckle observer every year since 1993; in a recent phone call, Mark mentioned that he had Marjorie’s 2021 lilac and honeysuckle observations, but still needed to enter them in the NPN database from her hardcopy. Mark also said that his mom “was an ideal environmental observer.  She was obsessively careful with details, always asked questions if anything in the procedures seemed unclear and made sure to carefully document all the information completely.  Mom provided excellent high-quality weather and phenological observations for all these years.”

    Toby Ault at Cornell University, one of Mark’s close colleagues commented, “That’s a very sweet and beautiful story about her being a lilac observer––a testament to how proud she must have been of her son.”

    - Written by Julio Betancourt, USGS Scientist Emeritus and Co-founder of the USA-NPN

  • Fall leaf out and flowering in lilacs
    Tuesday, November 16, 2021

    Some of our Nature' Notebook observers are reporting late season leaf out and flowering in lilacs this year. How uncommon is this late season phenology? Not too unusual, as the map below shows.

    Lilac fall leaf out and flowering 2021

  • Additional rainfall data added to Buffelgrass Pheno Forecast
    Wednesday, July 14, 2021

    Each summer, we deliver a Buffelgrass Pheno Forecast to aid managers in knowing where and when invasive buffelgrass is green across Southern Arizona. The forecast is based on known precipitation thresholds for triggering green-up to a level where management actions are most effective. In 2021, we added weather station-based forecasts of buffelgrass green up to the gridded forecasts to provide managers with additional data about rainfall. This additional information is available in the Visualization Tool. We also have 12 other Pheno Forecasts on a variety of insect pests.

    Buffelgrass Pheno Forecast with station data