Reversal of roles: Vegetation actually impacts our weather

It’s okay to go outside now spring is finally here! Although it may still feel like January, it’s only a matter of time before snow banks and L.L. Bean Boots are replaced with chirping birds and flip-flops. Deciduous trees will soon become covered with leaves and springtime flowers like daffodils will make up flowerbeds across the northeast. But such change in scenery can surprisingly bring a change in weather, specifically an overabundance of precipitation resulting in flooding and even severe weather throughout the spring.

Each day during the winter, we pass trees that sit stripped of their leaves and plants that have little to no life. We never really think about what effect the lack of agriculture in the winter has on our weather. It’s common sense that an abundance of leaves can form a canopy or that all living vegetation consists of water, but why are these factors important in terms of how we will be affected in a weather sense?

The onset of spring means more daylight, which consequently means warmer temperatures. As the ground warms and habitual springtime rain falls, the mild spring atmosphere is able to evaporate more water from the surface and cause vegetation to transpire more water into the atmosphere. This means that anything that relies on water to flourish such as plants, crops, trees or even soil loses water to the atmosphere due to the mixture of evaporation and transpiration, this process is known as evapotranspiration.

The more vegetated a region is, regardless if it’s a thick wooded area or a vast corn field, the more evapotranspiration will take place. Since this water is evapotranspirated into the atmosphere it takes on the form of water vapor or moisture. Severe weather enthusiasts know that during the spring, the more moisture that is present in the atmosphere, the greater possibility for the development and maturation severe weather or heavy precipitation. Therefore, it can be inferred that more evapotranspiration can equate to severe weather or local flooding.

Locally, Upstate New York has a variety of vegetation that allows for large amounts of evapotranspiration. For example, the world-renowned Finger Lakes wine region is an ideal area for high amounts of moisture in the atmosphere. Since wine grapes feed off water from the soil and use a canopy of leaves and plants to protect themselves from incoming solar radiation, there is plenty of water for evapotranspiration of moisture into the atmosphere. And with hundred of wineries in the Finger Lakes region, there is no shortage of water in the grape vines, soil and canopy, therefore no shortage of evapotranspiration into moisture.

As the days continue to grow longer, we will not only benefit from the warm weather but also from the springtime scenery. But be aware, as vegetation continues to grow in the spring, so does the possibility of a severe thunderstorm or even a tornado.