Which season’s greeting?
Eliza Wiley IR photo editor - Dry valley grasses give light to white-capped Mount Baldy and Edith northeast of Townsend. The month of October was 1 degree above average in the Helena area and November has been even warmer.

Greening grass, budding lilacs -- and even a fall encore by the tick -- have some Montanans scratching their heads and asking what's going on with the weather.

An unseasonably warm fall has Mother Nature behaving in ways more like April than late November.

Virginia Knerr, extension agent for Broadwater country, has seen Kentucky Bluegrass turning green in area yards. Daytime temperatures in the 40s and 50s have caused the buds to swell on some lilacs.

"If they get too far into it and we get a cold frost, it could kill the lilacs because they're not really dormant," said Knerr. "There are some oddities going on out there that will have an impact on what grows back and what

doesn't grow next spring."

Most of Montana falls in temperature "zone" three, requiring winter-hardy plants. Quaking aspen are considered zone-two trees, making them more tolerant of cold temperatures. The maple, in contrast, is a zone-four tree, meaning it's less tolerant.

Knerr said many non-native trees suited for planting in zones four and five could be tricked by November's warm weather and caught by off guard when subzero temperatures strike.

"If you start getting warmer days, those less tolerant trees will start running their sap," Knerr said. "When you get the moisture up in the bark and we suddenly get cold temperatures, the bark freezes and splits. It can definitely kill the tree."

The month of October was 1 degree above average in Helena. So far, November has been even warmer. Last week alone, average temperatures have been 6 to 8 degrees above normal.

The warm weather has allowed ticks to remain active. Nymphs and adults winter-over in weeds, duff, brush and fallen leaves, living between four to seven years, barring a deep freeze.

"The warm weather is probably doing the same thing with our ticks," Knerr said. "We'll have to see what happens next May."

Clinton Kujala, management chief for the wildlife division of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said the warm weather has given migratory game birds more options for feeding and finding open water.

"Like the elk, it keeps a lot of country open for those field foragers," Kujala said. "It keeps agricultural fields up north open and available further into the fall."

Kujala said migratory birds may only fly as far south as necessary. The mild weather may have an effect on when they leave and how far they fly.

"The further you go into the fall, the chances of weather setting in hard and staying hard arguably increase," he said. "But the critters are probably tuned in to day lengths and things just as we are. They're physiologically able to tune into that and do what they've always done."

Reporter Martin Kidston: 447-4086 or mkidson@helenair.com


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