There's no need to wait until Feb. 2, Groundhog Day, to learn whether winter will be prolonged. Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have predicted that spring will come three weeks earlier this year, according to their news release.

"Our projections show that winter will be shorter, which sound great for those of us in Wisconsin," Andrew Allstadt, one of the study's co-authors, said in the release.

Researchers have projected that, as a result of increasing global temperatures, spring plant growth will begin three weeks earlier. This might be good news for those of us who will be tired of shoveling come February, but this shift will have a serious impacton plants and the animals that depend on them, the researchers noted.

"Long distance migratory birds, for example, time their migration based on day length in their winter range. They may arrive in their breeding ground to find that the plant resources they require are already gone," Allstadt said.

For their study on the spring season's start, researchers used statistical models known as Extended Spring Indices (SI-x), which allows them to predict the "start of spring" in a particular location. From this, they were able to estimate when leaves and flowers will emerge based on day length. Basically, these models analyzed the phenology (seasonal change) of numerous plant species.

Researchers concluded that rapid shifts in plant phenology would occur in the Pacific Northwest and Mountainous regions of the western U.S. However, the South will experience smaller shifts; spring generally arrives their early.

"We are expanding our research to cover all kinds of extreme weather, including droughts and heat waves," Allstadt explained in a statement. "We are particularly interested in how these affect bird populations in wildlife refuges."

Researchers also confirmed that "false spring" events – when freezing temperatures return after spring plant growth has begun – will decrease in most locations, with the exception of the western Great Plains, which researchers expect will experience an increase in false springs.

"This is important as false springs can damage plant production cycles in natural and agricultural systems," Allstadt added. "In some cases, an entire crop can be lost."

Researchers were working on a NASA Biodiversity Grant. Their findings will help conservationists better protect public land in the U.S. Their study was recently published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.   

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