Climate Change Means Earlier Wildflower Seasons For Central Texas

Feb 28, 2019

Central Texas residents were confronted this week with two conflicting forecasts for the upcoming wildflower season. But the reports did agree on one thing: Flowers are coming early again.

The region can expect a “pretty average” display of wildflowers this year, according to the annual forecast from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The report attributed early mid-February blooms to the warm, wet winter and, in some cases, the urban heat island effect.

That’s a considerably less rosy prediction than the one offered by the 2019 Spring Wildflower Season Outlook from Wildflower Haven. It says “the spring 2019 wildflower season in some ways may resemble the 2010 once-in-a-lifetime season,” rating the wildflower prospects in Central Texas a “4+” out of 5.

Not surprisingly, the two forecasts differ in methodology. The report from the Wildflower Center quotes the center’s director of horticulture, while Wildflower Haven's outlook says its conclusions “represents the collective experience of several professional and semi-professional photographers.”

If you've driven down I-35 in the last week or so, you can see what the reports agree on: Wildflower season is already here.

Why?

It's been a warm, wet winter. That's similar to conditions in 2017 and 2016, which brought wildflowers to the region in early to mid-February. In fact, a review of reports since 2009 shows that five out of 10 wildflower seasons (50 percent) have had strong “early” blooms.

So, when does an "early" bloom become the new normal?

That's a question that's also been asked about the heat of our summers and the severity of our winter storms. It all comes down to climate change. Austin’s winter climate has been warming steadily, along with the rest of the planet. 

“Warmer temperatures make a difference in the natural environment, in terms of things like the changing of the seasons,” State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon told KUT after the early wildflower bloom of 2017.

“As you notice things over the years, you start being able to perceive the effects of climate change, even if you don’t have a thermometer in your backyard that you’re recording data [with] for many years.”