KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Unseasonably warm temperatures mean early bursts of color in the Tri-Cities, and wildlife officials say it could have an impact on the rest of the year.
Ranger Bob Culler with Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium monitors local wildflowers for spring colors and told News Channel 11 that they’re seeing some buds already.
“Our first real flowers that we see here at Bays Mountain is red maple trees, and they were actually blooming the week of Valentine’s Day,” Culler said. “So they were blooming last week. That’s about two weeks earlier than normal.”
The heat brings more than flowers to the park, it draws guests.
“It doesn’t really have much negative effect on our work here for the most part; it allows us to get out and be a little more comfortable while we’re doing some maintenance around the park,” Culler said. “But also it tends to bring out a lot more visitors. Over the past couple of weeks, we’re having a lot more visitors than average for this time of the year.”
Red maples on the mountain can be identified by their small scarlet bulbs, and Culler said several other species are due to bloom soon. If the warmth holds up, it could pull those dates even closer.
“Probably in just a few weeks we’ll see things like redbud, dogwood,” Culler said. “Service trees, or the serviceberry, will start blooming in usually mid to early March depending on the weather.”
If temperatures plunge down to where they normally tend to be, Culler said it could have a significant impact on local species.
“If we get weather in the low 20s or upper teens, which is not unheard of this time of year, it could actually freeze the flowers and freeze the forming seeds and reduce the amount of seeds that the trees produce,” Culler said. “Which then has an impact on animals that eat the seeds. Squirrels, chipmunks and birds that depend on a lot of those seeds for their food in the spring.”
While temperature swings can cause challenges for local species, Culler said it can be a prime opportunity for unwanted guests.
“A concern sometimes is that warmer than average weather can be good conditions for certain invasive species,” Culler said. “For certain exotics that are causing problems in the park and elsewhere in the area as well.”
While the warmth alone isn’t cause for concern yet, Culler said his colleagues will be watching the thermometer closely and preparing their regular events.
“It may be warm right now and it’ll bring out the flowers pretty early,” Culler said. “But then it can turn cold again and slow things down. We’ll just wait till May and see how spring turns out.”