How Do Plants Grow, Despite Several Feet of Snow in Central New York?

Outside Carnegie Library at Syracuse University flowers are budding among snow banks. (C) Josh Schafer 2018

Click play above to hear how plants are growing despite mounds of snow still on the ground.  Audio transcript: Schafer_plants script

By Josh Schafer SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC NEWS) In Syracuse New York, the snowiest major city in the country, winters can be long. Still, just more than a week after the first day of spring, flowers have already began budding.

The two actually work together ESF professor Chris Nowak said. As of Tuesday Syracuse hadn’t seen precipitation from the sky in eleven days. But with higher temperatures leading to more snow melting, the plants feed off the dripping water.

In an email to NCC News, ESF associate professor Colin Beier said the 11 days without precipitation isn’t enough to be considered a drought, especially during the winter months. With snow providing the plants moisture, and less heat than in the summer months, not much rain is needed this time of year, Beier said.

“That melting snow is working its way down to the groundwater and feeding our streams, rivers, ponds and lakes,” Beier said. “This helps to offset any changes in flow conditions or water levels that normally occur during a stretch of dry weather.”

Two 40 degree days, Nowak said, is all it takes for biological activity to begin. This means the warm spurts over the past few weeks have initiated flower buds for the spring. And even additional snow over the next several weeks wouldn’t kill the plants off.

“These plants have evolved in this dynamic system that’s changing,” Nowak said, “And so you have to do extraordinary things in terms of changes of temperature and moisture to cause plants to bout of what’s normal for them, and what’s normal for them is variability.”