Our native blue oaks seem equally confused. I started to notice that many of the oaks started turning color in August - 45-60 days earlier than normal. Based on the limited research I've done, this was probably because they were drought stressed. Despite this early color-change, many of these oaks still have leaves - and we're only 6-8 weeks away from normal leaf-out. Our local horticulture farm advisor, Cindy Fake, theorizes that the hormonal changes that cause the trees to drop leaves (by making cellular changes in leaf stems) didn't happen this year. I find it very odd to see autumn colors in the midst of winter.
Finally, following the wettest December we've had since we've lived in Auburn, the weather has once again turned dry. We haven't had measurable rainfall since Christmas (almost three weeks). While this dry spell pales in comparison to last year's 50-plus day dry stretch in December and January, it does make me nervous. I was stunned by the lack of snow in Yosemite National Park during our visit on January 3.
What does this mean? Personally, I think the climate is changing and that human activity (e.g., burning fossil fuels) is at least partly responsible for this change. In the short term, these weird phenomena can create challenges for those of us who work directly with natural resources. I've written previously about the disease issues we've faced because of last year's dry and warm winter. Many fruit trees require cold weather for a necessary dormant period - and many crop pests are able to overwinter when it's warmer than normal. In the long term, I think most farmers and ranchers will adapt - but these changes will probably influence the types of crops and the length of our growing season here in the Sierra foothills.
In the meantime, we seem to be back in a pattern