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The calendar says it’s winter. But it’s actually more like spring

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High temperatures are breaking records, and flowers are blooming early

Flowers in front of City Hall
Temperatures set records across Los Angeles over the past two days
Sergey Novikov | Shutterstock

Punxsutawney Phil hasn’t even gotten a chance to form an opinion yet, but spring has nonetheless arrived in Los Angeles.

Winter has ended in most of Southern California—up to two weeks ahead of schedule, based on longterm averages, according to the National Phenology Network, which tracks seasonal changes across the United States.

Unseasonably warm temperatures have begun to bring plants out of their period of wintertime dormancy.

Rachel Young, director of horticulture at Descanso Gardens, says that tulips in the garden are already coming up and are on track to bloom ahead of schedule this year. At the Los Angeles County Arboretum, botanical information consultant Frank McDonough says pink trumpets are blooming about two months early.

“That’s pretty unusual,” he tells Curbed.

Residents could be forgiven for assuming spring had been skipped altogether over the past few days, when very summer-like temperatures beset the region.

On Sunday, all-time high temperatures for the day were recorded in Burbank, Long Beach, Lancaster, and at UCLA, according to the National Weather Service. Yesterday, records again fell in Long Beach and at UCLA, while a 56-year-old record fell at LAX when the temperature reached 89 degrees (a full 6 degrees above the previous high mark for January 29).

Spring weather map
Spring weather is arriving ahead of schedule across the Southwest.
USA National Phenology Network

Stewart Seto, a weather specialist for the National Weather Service, says La Niña conditions have contributed to what’s been a particularly warm and dry winter.

“We’ve got high pressure blocking systems and sending them up north,” he says.

Those systems could otherwise bring rain and cloud cover to the area, helping to bring down temperatures.

Instead, Los Angeles has gotten a particularly warm winter. The average high temperature in January was 4.3 degrees above normal; in December, it was 6 degrees above normal.

Based on projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that trend is likely to continue into February, March, and April.

That’s good news if you’re planning a beach day, but it could spell trouble for the region, where drought conditions may be returning after an exceptionally wet winter last year. The United States Drought Monitor currently rates the Los Angeles area as “abnormally dry,” though a growing number of nearby regions are experiencing moderate drought.

The NOAA predicts that drought conditions will continue into April, and could even expand out of Southern California and into the Central Valley.

McDonough says the warm weather is also disrupting the seasonal changes of certain plants that rely on temperature cues to bloom or to shed leaves.

“We have trees holding onto leaves they shouldn’t be holding onto,” he says, observing that they already “took their sweet time changing color.”