Years ago, a friend told me about her favorite Memphis day of the year. It wasn't a specific date, but she knew it when she saw it. It's the day when all the trees have leafed out fully, fresh and green, before the depredations of summer heat and insects have begun to take their toll. "Usually," she said, "I'll be driving along Peabody Avenue in late April and look around and realize, it's here, the 'perfect day.' Everything's come back for another year."
This year, the perfect day is going to get here at least a month early. In my yard, petunias, snapdragons, and sage are blooming profusely. I planted them last spring, and they survived the winter — a definite first. Everything is ahead of schedule — azaleas, redbuds, dogwoods, roses — the result of one of the warmest winters on record in the U.S.
How warm was it? It was so warm that more than 7,000 temperature records were broken around the country, sometimes by 30, 40, even 50 degrees. So warm that the cherry blossoms are out in Washington, D.C., a month ahead of schedule. So warm that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's site that records temperatures crashed, because the software couldn't handle the huge number of high-temperature records being set.
So is it just freaky hot weather or climate change? The scientific consensus is that climate change is upon us. Science writer Andrew Freedman: "In a long-term trend that has been found to be inconsistent with natural variability alone, daily record-high temperatures have recently been outpacing daily record-lows by an average of two to one, and this imbalance is expected to grow as the climate continues to warm. ... If the climate were not warming, this ratio would be expected to be even."
There is, of course, less consensus — at least, politically — as to whether climate change is a result of the "greenhouse effect" caused by increased burning of fossil fuels around the world. But in my mind, at least, that argument is moot. There are few indications that humans are going to reduce emissions in such a way as to alter what now appears to be a done deal: The ice caps are shrinking, extreme weather events are increasing, the planet is getting warmer. In Memphis, summers are going to be increasingly hellish. So, enjoy the perfect days of March and April. Fertilize your petunias. Plant a palm tree. Why not?
Sure, we may end up having to change Memphis in May to Memphis in March, but the alliteration still works.