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Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission passed a resolution making the daffodil the official flower of Athens in August 2018. (Photo/Erin Schilling)

Athens’ favorite flower is making an appearance a little earlier than usual this year.

By the second day of classes on Jan. 8, trumpet daffodils gave a little pop of color behind the trash cans near the University of Georgia Main Library.

Normally, these flowers wouldn’t be in bloom for about a month, said John Ruter, a professor of horticulture and director of the UGA Trial Gardens. However, consecutive days of warm temperatures and rain has expedited some flower growth.

These blooms indicate a broader trend of warm temperatures, both because of current weather patterns and climate change, UGA atmospheric sciences professor Marshall Shepherd said.

“There is no question climate change is adding a bit more ‘oomph’ to summer heatwaves and winter warm spells in an average sense,” Shepherd said. “The poor flowers, wasps and weeds are confused.”

2019 was Georgia’s warmest year on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The first week of UGA classes saw high temperatures hovering around 64 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 10 degrees higher than the average high temperatures for January, according to U.S. climate data.

In addition to the daffodils, Ruter said he noticed some cherry trees beginning to bud earlier than usual as well.

While daffodils indicate warmer temperatures, these yellow flowers can withstand the cold well, so they can shake off late frosts and live through sharp temperature drops.

However, the same is not true for other plants. If some plants mistake the warm weather for the spring season, such as the cherry trees Ruter noticed last week, upcoming cold temperatures or frost may kill them or cause serious damage.

This could create a loss of crops for farmers and the Georgia economy. For example, in 2017, a late March frost caused the state to lose an estimated 80 percent of its blueberry crop, which equated to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Even though a longer growing season may sound like a benefit to the agriculture industry, a 2018 study published in Nature showed that it has adverse effects that compensate for the early benefits.

If the plants start to grow earlier in the year, they use the water stored in the soil sooner than normal, which creates water deficiencies during dry summer months. This change decreases growth or causes drought damage during late summer months, creating a net loss for the plants, according to the 30 years of data analyzed in the study.

Additionally, Shepherd said warmer temperatures earlier in the year cause longer allergy and pollen seasons. He outlined other implications of climate change on Georgia in Forbes earlier this week.

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