Spring in winter: What the warm weather in the region means for people and animals

Spring in winter : What the warm weather in the region means for people and animals

It's actually mid-winter now, say the meteorologists, but the January weather is much too mild for that. However, not everyone is happy about this: those with allergies suffer and animals end their hibernation too early.

January feels like March and the thermometer has climbed into double-digit values during the day on several days since the beginning of the year. There is no sign of ice and frost, even at higher altitudes in the Rhein-Sieg district. In the mornings, the birds chirp and the first buds are sprouting. This is the time of year that meteorologists call “deep winter” – the coldest time of the year, which lasts from January to about mid-February. Although weather experts are predicting a fall in temperatures in the coming days, January 2020 will be one of the warmest since weather records began, they say. The first effects of this are noticeable.

In Manuel Minnemann’s medical practice in Bornheim these days there are already one or two patients with allergic complaints. “The early flowering hazel and alder are making themselves felt,” says the dermatologist and allergist. Is this unusually early? “No, not really”, he says, but it is rather the continuation of a trend that has been observed for several years: “We had our first pollen count in December.”

Despite the early start to the pollen season, it is not possible to predict how the year will develop for allergy sufferers: “Despite the current warm weather, everything remains open.” This assessment is also shared by Minnemann's colleague Ernst Cramer from Rhöndorf: “The season for allergy sufferers has been starting earlier for several years,” he says and “this will continue this year.” The hazelnut bushes in his garden are already in full bloom. This is nice to look at, but he himself is also allergic to the early blossoming plants. “In that respect, I am already treating myself.”

Although some suffer from the sunny early spring, horticulturist Alexander Ross from Königswinter is happy about the good weather for his work. “When the sun comes out, the first customers contact me,” he says and he can also work, as long as it doesn’t really freeze and snow. “For me it means that my order book doesn't have the typical January gap this year.”

His colleague Urban Kurscheid sees things somewhat differently. The first customers are also contacting him with orders. “We're doing what we couldn't do in autumn because of the wet weather,” he says, “but it is still too early for anything else.” He is not yet planting any new plants and he is also advising all his customers to wait. In addition to the possible late frosts, the soil has softened by the winter precipitation so that every step onto a bed causes damage. “This compacts the soil so much that the plants can no longer get enough oxygen and cannot grow properly.”

Fruit farmer Roland Schmitz-Hübsch from Bornheim takes a relaxed view of the capricious weather. The buds of his apple, pear, cherry and plum trees are already sprouting, “but the next cold spell will stop that,” he says. As long as everything happens slowly, it won’t be a problem for the fruit trees. It will only become critical when it suddenly gets much colder: “If, for example, we get temperatures of minus ten degrees at the weekend, the trees would no longer be able to regulate the salt and water balance in their buds” However, Schmitz-Hübsch does not see any danger of this happening at present.

Temperature changes are dangerous for animals

A cold spell after previously warm days would also be problematic for animals, according to Hannegret Krion, chairwoman of the Nature Conservation Association (Nabu) Rhine-Sieg. The same applies to a constant change between warm and cold temperatures. “Because it robs the animals of reserves of energy,” says Krion. This affects hedgehogs, for example, which hibernate. “If they have to constantly wake up and then have to go back into hibernation, it is possible that they won’t have enough fat reserves.” Another thing is that at the moment there is hardly any food available for hedgehogs and bats. According to the Nabu chairwoman, the situation is different for animals that have a dormant period in winter, such as squirrels, which interrupt their resting phases anyway to take in food and therefore, “It's not so critical with them.”

The mild weather also impacts amphibians. If the temperatures were to remain at twelve or 13 degrees Celsius for a long time, frogs and toads could liven up earlier and would migrate to their spawning grounds correspondingly earlier. In addition, some species of butterflies that spend the winter as moths in frost-protected dwellings can also be driven out of their winter stasis earlier, "But then find no food and die," says Krion.

(Original text; Andrea Ziech, Heike Hamann and Hannah Schmitt, translation John Chandler)