Fifty years ago, when I started gardening in Palisades, the average date of the first frost was October 12. Over the years that date has shifted; this year the leaves started falling later than I can ever remember and the first frost on my property occurred on November 15. To illustrate the paradoxical nature of the way our region is warming, that same day an early snowstorm created havoc in our area.

Cellen Wolk, who has been maintaining Palisades gardens for many years, commented on the changes she has seen. “The weather seems very inconsistent, making it hard to see definite patterns. It seems to be both much wetter and much drier. Also colder and hotter. There has been a seasonal shift, however, and that’s fairly easy to recognize. Plants are leafing out and blooming earlier in the spring and leaves and flowers are lasting longer in the fall. In the short term this calls for more watering, weeding, mowing and pruning.

“These warmer, wetter summers and shorter, warmer winters have supported an increase in pests, pathogens and invasive plants. Fawns that are born in the summer and fall can now survive our shorter, warmer, snowless winters. The increased number of deer, generally, has led to reduced diversity in the forest understory. Nearly everything gets eaten.”

My friend Danny Lehrecke described the changes he has seen on the Hudson shore. "In the twenty-five years I’ve kayaked in and around Palisades, I have noticed a significant change in the intensity and frequency of storms. Following the third nor’easter in a row that hit the Hudson River Valley this past March, a corridor of Spartina lay horizontal. Today the Spartina along the shore is totally gone, the high tide mark is approximately four to six feet higher than it was ten years ago, and the flora and fauna that survive along the river are noticeably diminished. The fiddler crabs, river otters, bald eagles and other raptors have been less visible in recent months. This fall I saw very few ospreys fishing during the four to six weeks that the striped bass and bluefish run up the river. Normally I would see several each day.”

Rich Rasmussen has been working at landscaping since 1973, when he was ten years old. Over the years he has noticed a number of changes in our local environment. For one thing, because of rising temperatures we no longer get iceberg-shaped piles of snow lining the roads, some of them lasting all winter. However ice storms seem to be getting worse.

The stresses on lawns have changed. There are more weeds, and some of the plants germinating in the grass have only been found in warmer climates in the past. This has been a very wet year, leading to more fungal conditions that stress ornamental trees and turf, as well as peoples’ health.

Rich has noticed many more field mice and deer in Palisades in the past few years. Since both carry deer ticks, their increased presence helps to explain why every aspect of the business of tick prevention has quadrupled; ticks seem to be everywhere. Japanese grubs have also become a much larger component of the insect life around us.

Mark Cane, a climatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, has researched ocean and climate physics for more than three decades. In our area, Cane said severe storms are becoming the new normal.

“We’re going to get more severe weather. Rain storms are likely to become more intense and more enhanced. The sea level has risen and continues to rise, and it’ll take less of a special event to make problems,” said Cane.

Climate change affects the environment here in many different ways. Researchers have found that carbon dioxide levels have an impact on the toxicity of poison ivy, making the plants bigger and more poisonous. Warmer weather makes it easier for insects and disease carriers like mosquitoes and ticks to survive, making the West Nile virus, Lyme disease and other illnesses more prevalent. A warmer climate can also increase pollen production in plants and ground-level ozone formation, which can make asthma, allergy or other respiratory conditions worse.

Climate records taken for the last 112 years at Mohonk Mountain House are unique for their consistency and reliability and confirm these changes over time. The records show that both annual precipitation and annual snowfall in our area have increased and the growing season is now ten days longer than it used to be. Today there are significantly more days without frost each year. Many migrating bird species are arriving about a week earlier than they did in the 1920s and many robins have stopped migrating altogether.

Data from other local climate records show that New York annual average temperatures are up nearly 2°F and New York winter temperatures up almost 5°. Heat waves are becoming more frequent and lasting longer. By 2020, the number of days exceeding 90° F is expected to almost double.

Precipitation is becoming more variable and extreme, meaning there are more heavy rainfall events intermixed with drier periods. Major rainfall events (over one inch in 24 hours) increased 74% between the periods of 1950- 1979 and 1980-2009. Short-term drought is occurring more frequently and severely during the summer. This trend is expected to continue, presenting a risk to drinking water and agriculture. Sea-level in the Hudson has risen fifteen inches since 1900, and will continue to rise.

In many ways we are lucky in Palisades. Mud slides, tornadoes and forest fires are less likely to affect us, compared with other parts of the country. But our environment is changing, and as it does we will have to change and adapt. I now have a family of deer living on my back lawn. It's a strange new world ahead.