Season creep

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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 effects 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 Collins English Dictionary published in London June 4, 2007.[36][37] The term was popularized in the media after the report titled "Season Creep: How Global Warming Is Already Affecting The World Around Us" was published by the American environmental organization 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:

While to some, an early arrival of spring may sound good, an imbalance in the ecosystem can wreak havoc. Natural processes like flowers blooming, birds nesting, insects emerging, and ice melting are triggered in large part by temperature. As temperatures increase globally, the delicately balanced system begins to fall into ecological disarray. We call this season creep.[38]

See also

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. ISBN 0-7506-8320-1. Season creep n. Earlier spring weather and other gradual seasonal shifts caused by global climate change.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 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<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  6. McFedries, Paul (August 2006). "Changing Climate, Changing Language". IEEE Spectrum. Retrieved 2007-12-23. Did spring seem to arrive a bit earlier than usual this year in your part of the world? That wouldn’t be surprising, because we seem to be undergoing season creep: earlier spring weather and other gradual seasonal shifts, particularly those caused by global climate change.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Sayre, Carolyn (2006-12-17). "The Year in Buzzwords 2006". TIME. Retrieved 2007-12-26. SEASON CREEP n. Spring seemed to come early this year--and summer lasted a bit longer. What's to blame? Most scientists say global warming.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 Skinner, Victor (2007-02-17). "Area temperatures expected to rise back to 'normal'". Traverse City Record-Eagle. Retrieved 2007-12-27. ...the west arm of Grand Traverse Bay ... has only frozen over five times since 1987,.... Between 1851 and 1980, [it] froze at least seven years per decade, ... the bay-freezing trend shows "a long-term gradual decline with a significant decline in the past 25 to 35 years.”<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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."<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 "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. BBC News. 2006-08-25. Retrieved 2007-12-28. Spring was beginning on average six to eight days earlier than it did 30 years ago, the researchers said.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  12. 12.0 12.1 "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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  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. ISBN 0-226-45513-0. Finally, there is the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC, each spring. On average the two principal species, Prunus serrulata (Kwanzan cherry and other varieties) and P. X yedoensis ( Yoshino cherry), bloom six and nine days earlier, respectively, than they did in 1970. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  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". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2007-12-23. ...earlier springs — an idea known as "season creep" — may or may not be related to long-term warming trends. Yet the reality of year-to-year weather weirdness recently, coupled with the ever-present impulse to outsmart Mother Nature, has prompted more than a few gardeners to shun conventional horticultural wisdom.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Williams, Brad (2007-04-08). "Dogwoods to frogs, tulips to snow, Knox shows signs of warming". Knoxville News Sentinel. Retrieved 2007-12-23. Knoxville is now in hardiness Zone 7, a zone where more southern trees and shrubs flourish. The zone shift can be seen all across the northern half of the state. It effectively means plants that once had difficulty growing here are now finding it easier to thrive, said Lisa Stanley, master gardener at Stanley's Greenhouses<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  24. Dybas, Cheryl Lyn (2006-03-20). "Early Spring Disturbing Life on Northern Rivers". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-12-26. Research by [USGS hydrologist Glenn] Hodgkins and USGS scientist Robert Dudley also shows changes in early-spring stream flow across eastern North America from Minnesota to Newfoundland. Rivers are gushing with snow- and ice-melt as much as 10 to 15 days sooner than they did 50 to 90 years ago, based on USGS records.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. "Why Less Winter Ice is the Pitts for State". The Detroit Free Press. 2006-04-03. Retrieved 2007-12-23. Grand Traverse Bay ... froze at least seven winters out of every 10; the rate slipped in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the bay froze only three times. So far this decade, once. Observers see that as one more sign of what some call "season creep," or evidence of global warming.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.'<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. A Science of Signs of Spring; Naturalists Study What Warming Temperatures Would Mean for Plants, Animals March 17, 2013 Wall Street Journal
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  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. "'Season creep', 'BBQ stopper' appear in dictionary pages". ABC News Online. 2007-06-04. Retrieved 2007-12-23. "Hoodies", "season creep" and "barbecue stopper" are among hundreds of new words and phrases included in an updated version of an English dictionary.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. 38.0 38.1 "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<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. "What Has Longer Season Brought To Baseball Besides Snow Warnings?". Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA). 1997-10-23. Retrieved 2007-12-26. Call it season creep. First came the shift to 162 games, a change that made it, among other things, impossible to compare Roger Maris' 61 home runs to Babe Ruth's 60.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. "Virginian-Pilot Archives". The Virginian-Pilot. Pilot Media. 2007-05-29. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 'Season creep' has expanded the time an intercollegiate athlete must devote to his or her specialty. No sport should be year-round or nearly so.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  41. Sellnow, Greg (2007-04-07). ", Greg Sellnow column: I'm just sayin'". Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn. Retrieved 2007-12-26. And it is money, of course, that is responsible for campaign season creep. If you don't raise money early -- gobs and gobs of it -- you'll find yourself on the fundraising super highway with roller marks over your body, where your opponent's war chest plowed over you.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  42. Siewers, Alf (1987-11-25). "He's well-suited to enjoying life of Santa". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-12-26. And so does the culture, with a commercializing of himself that Santa deplores even as he has watched the holiday season creep back to Labor Day.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>